The Astoria Co-Op Grocery has signed a lease to build a new store on the site of the former Astoria Plywood Cooperative at the corner of 23rd Street and Marine Drive.

The new location in Mill Pond, at more than 11,000 square feet, will increase the co-op’s retail footprint from 2,100 to 7,500 square feet and is expected to nearly triple the current staff of 25. The expansion will add more fresh produce, meat, cheese, deli and a dining area.

The co-op has a 20-year lease on the site with landowner Astor Venture LLC and will start a capital campaign in the fall to raise substantially more than $1 million for the construction of the store. Co-op General Manager Matt Stanley said the co-op’s total project cost will be about $3.8 million, with a similar amount coming from Astor Venture.

“Most shoppers feel the co-op has outgrown its current space at 14th and Exchange (streets) in Astoria,” a release from the co-op said. “Crowded aisles and lack of a designated receiving area for deliveries are a few of the telltale signs. A shopper survey revealed that the vast majority support expansion, so the board of directors made that a goal in the co-op’s strategic plan.”

Stanley joined the co-op in 2008, shortly before the store moved from the Norblad Building on 14th between Exchange and Duane streets to the Shark Rock Building, one block south. Since then, he said, the store has grown from between 500 and 600 members to nearly 4,000, with annual sales climbing from $800,000 to $3.8 million.

“This current location has allowed us to be really successful,” he said, but the Shark Rock Building was meant to be office spaces, while the vacant land provides the co-op a chance to build a dedicated grocery store.

Stanley said the co-op looked at several sites and tried to find a downtown location that would work, but couldn’t find enough space to accommodate the store expansion and ample parking.

Stanley said the co-op’s 10-year lease with developers Paul Caruana and Brian Faherty in the Shark Rock Building runs out at the end of 2018, by which point the store hopes to open in the new location. But the project faces several permitting and design hurdles before construction can begin.

The new site is zoned attached housing-Mill Pond, intended to “provide an area of intensively developed mixed uses, incorporating housing, limited commercial uses, recreation and open space with a strong orientation to the Mill Pond and the Columbia River.”

The zone allows outright artist studios, in-home day care centers, single- and multifamily dwellings and other residential facilities. Conditionally allowed are bed and breakfasts, commercial day care centers, public use and retail spaces no larger than 6,000 square feet, meaning the co-op’s larger project needs a zone adjustment and conditional use permit. The project will also need approval from the Mill Pond Village Owners Association.

Helping the co-op design the store and get approval is Don Vallaster, a Portland architect and one of the partners in Astor Venture. The company acquired the property a decade ago from Wauna Federal Credit Union, which attempted to put a new branch there. Over the years, the site has played host to a number of proposals, including workforce housing and a care center.

The employee-owned Astoria Plywood Mill occupied the area around Mill Pond for more than 120 years, until the mill closed in 1989. The city redeveloped the site in the 1990s from a brownfield into the 16-acre Mill Pond Village neighborhood, mostly developed except for the vacant land where the co-op could build.

Despite all the hurdles, Vallaster said, it feels good to finally have something tangible happening with the property. “It seems like a good use for the property, and certainly a good thing for the city,” he said.

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