At the south end of Mill Pond, developer Art DeMuro envisioned two piers, each with six small homes over the water and a common walkway running down the middle.
DeMuro, who died in 2012, donated the pier lots to the city, which up until recently hadn’t received any bites.
Now the Astoria City Council faces competing offers from a developer who says he wants to finish DeMuro’s vision, and a group of neighbors who want to keep the piers undeveloped.
The city has paid more than $64,000 in fees to the Mill Pond homeowners association, with $13,000 more budgeted for this fiscal year. In 2018, the City Council voted to market the two pier lots for $45,000 each.
After not getting any offers, the City Council in July gave City Manager Brett Estes the go-ahead to work with a group of about 10 neighbors who have offered $11,500 for the city to deplat and turn the lots into parkland. City staff estimated $15,000 to decommission utilities and remove water meters, among other changes.
John Dulcich, an Astoria native and Seattle-based developer, said he read about the city abandoning the sale. He read up on the history of DeMuro, who designed the Mill Pond neighborhood out of the shuttered Astoria Plywood Cooperative and had his ashes spread on the pond. Dulcich recently offered $35,000 to buy both piers.
“It just sort of spoke to me,” he said. “It’s really a cool thing, and I’d like to complete this thing, if it’s feasible.”
The six spaces on each pier decrease in size as they go out over the pond. An easement forms a central walkway running down the middle of the piers.
“I think they were trying to ameliorate any impact on the houses to the south, so that they would provide a peak-through,” said Mike Morgan, interim city planner, of DeMuro’s design.
Dulcich said he is still studying the market, but plans to develop the lots like townhouses and market them as condos for people who don’t want to live on a hillside.
The City Council will hold a public hearing Sept. 30 on Dulcich’s offer. But neighbors concerned about the potential sale packed a council meeting last week, pleading with councilors to keep the lots undeveloped for the views and the wildlife that visits the pond.
Mill Pond resident Arlee Jensen called it a wonderful happenstance that the city controls the lots rather than a developer.
“Because the city has control of that, I think it behooves all of us to figure out a way to maintain that real extraordinary vista in Astoria permanently, not as a temporary solution, but rather as a long-term solution,” Jensen said.
Cheryl Storey, the former president of the Mill Pond Homeowners Association, said she and other residents have been instrumental in gathering the donations to buy the lots, turn them into parkland and relieve the city of the fees.
“We thought we were moving forward, and then of course this came through at the 11th hour,” Storey said.
She and others wondered whether the city would entertain a counteroffer. City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard said anyone can make an offer until the city has a signed agreement with a buyer.
“I was part of the City Council last year that voted to put the properties up for sale, believing that was the right thing to do, given that they were always intended for residential development,” Mayor Bruce Jones said at the meeting. “We need to stop paying these homeowners association dues.”
The city would like to get back the money it’s spent on fees to the homeowners association but hasn’t received any offers besides Dulcich’s, Morgan said. Allowing the lots to be developed would provide property tax revenue, but Morgan described the additional revenue as negligible.
“It’s a bucket of water in the estuary,” he said. “It goes to this enormous pool that’s essentially countywide.”
Dulcich, who hopes to close on the sale by the end of the year if the city accepts his offer, was at the last City Council meeting. But he said he was hesitant to speak.
“People always have a fear of the unknown, and I get that,” he said. “I guess I was a little taken back by the concern.”