The Astoria City Council granted a new hearing for the developer hoping to build a Grocery Outlet.
The city’s Design Review Commission unanimously denied the store near the Mill Pond neighborhood last month, citing issues with access from Marine Drive and challenges it would pose for pedestrians. Michael Robinson, an attorney for the developer, appealed the denial, arguing it did not reasonably explain how the project could be approved.
City Manager Brett Estes recommended at a City Council meeting on Monday that a new hearing is the best way to allow for fresh public input. The other option is an on-the record hearing, during which the council would review existing materials but not take new input.
Main & Main Capital Group wants to develop a new location for the national grocery chain on a triangle-shaped lot where Commercial Street runs into Marine Drive. The site is just west of the new Astoria Co+op grocery store slated to open in December.
The developer can submit a revised site plan in a new hearing, which the council could send back to the Design Review Commission for a new recommendation. The 120-day appeal period on the Grocery Outlet project lasts until Jan. 23, but the developer has stated they would extend the appeal another two months to provide enough time, Estes said.
The only recent on-the-record hearing by the council was for a final appeal of the Design Review Commission’s second denial of a Mariott-brand Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel franchise. The final hearing came after the council had already sent a revised design back to the Design Review Commission, providing exhaustive chances for public input before ultimately approving the proposed hotel.
Estes and City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard also recommended providing a new hearing because of an ex parte contact — meaning one-sided and outside the hearing process — by Commissioner Sarah Jane Bardy that was not disclosed until after the Oct. 3 public hearing on the store and could have been used as a basis for appeal.
Bardy commented after the closure of the public hearing on issues she had with the cookie-cutter design similar to other Grocery Outlets, noting some online research she did. That research should have been declared during the hearing as an ex parte contact, Estes said. Allowing Bardy’s comments in a new hearing would cure the procedural issue, he said.
Bardy said she didn’t realize her Google searches were considered ex parte contacts, or that she necessarily agrees, but that she would have noted the research beforehand if she had known. Her research into other similar-looking Grocery Outlet stores stemmed from the developer’s claims that their building was tailored to the local aesthetic, she said.
Mayor Bruce Jones disallowed public comment during the decision Monday on what type of hearing to hold, citing numerous attempts at ex parte contacts with the City Council.
Aside from any procedural issues, Jones said, he preferred the new hearing as the best way to allow adequate public input. City Councilor Roger Rocka said it seems fair that a new plan would be heard anew by the Design Review Commission.
Bardy recently resigned from the Design Review Commission, citing time constraints and saying it was a good time to step down with no active projects before the body.
Jones appointed Dulcye Taylor, the owner of Old Town Framing Co., to replace her. Taylor is also a former president of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association and ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year.