A vote on whether to allow a Grocery Outlet in Astoria has been delayed until September.
On Thursday night, an attorney representing the developers behind the discount grocery store asked the Design Review Committee for a continuance of a public hearing on the project.
Developers hope to build the one-story, 16,000-square-foot store on property off Marine Drive near the Mill Pond neighborhood and the new Astoria Co+op.
The store is a permitted outright use of the property and city planning staff has recommended approval. But the triangular lot where Grocery Outlet wants to build could be tricky to develop to all of the city’s design standards, according to a staff report.
The project received pushback from people concerned about how the new store might exacerbate traffic flow and create a potentially dangerous turn out of the store’s parking lot. Some on the Design Review Committee also questioned if the city’s design criteria could be met at the site.
With written testimony still landing on Thursday and people testifying publicly at the hearing, Michael Robinson, an attorney with Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt, said he wanted a fair chance to respond to people’s concerns.
The hearing will resume on Sept. 5.
Many of the people who spoke against the project Thursday said they did not oppose a Grocery Outlet, but believed the property — the former home to NAPA Auto Parts and TP Freight — is the wrong location.
Jan Faber, a resident, complimented the developers on their willingness to cooperate with the city and change aspects of the building’s materials and design elements.
“But the one thing I don’t think they can mitigate … is the traffic,” he said. He questioned the supposed ease of using Marine Drive to enter and exit the parking lot, saying that people who live in Astoria know it is not easy at all.
The Design Review Committee evaluates a narrow scope of criteria and traffic is not one of the items on the list. The committee can look at access to the site and building and parking lot orientation, however.
If Grocery Outlet’s application is approved, city engineering staff and the state Department of Transportation will need to sign off on the proposed access driveways.
Among the comments Grocery Outlet hopes to respond to by September are arguments raised by lawyers representing the Astoria Co+op and a Facebook group called Responsible Growth Astoria.
The Astoria Co+op has hired a land use attorney, as well as a traffic engineer, to argue against Grocery Outlet’s application.
“We’re not afraid of competition,” said Matt Stanley, the co-op’s general manager, a statement that would be repeated by others representing the organic and natural food store.
Stanley went on to highlight what the co-op offers and detailed the process the co-op went through to land approval for its new building last year.
He and other co-op representatives argued that the location where Grocery Outlet hopes to build is not the right fit, citing issues with the store’s plans to use Marine Drive as its primary access — an access the city typically discourages in this area.
In a memo to the Design Review Committee, Carrie Richter, the co-op’s land use attorney, contested several design issues. She argued that the proposed building’s orientation and parking layout did not meet the city’s criteria and “fails to provide a ‘pedestrian-oriented street’ front and no effort has been made to limit or otherwise hide parking areas from the street.”
The co-op also faced pushback about the location and orientation of its building when it was seeking approval for a new store off Marine Drive and 23rd Street. Much of the criticism came from property owners in the neighboring Mill Pond Village.
The co-op also first sought a zone change for the property to switch it from mixed use, where retail would be allowed only as a conditional use, to local service, where retail is permitted outright.
People who said they supported the idea of an expanded co-op had similar concerns over increased traffic on Marine Drive. Mill Pond property owners were especially worried about the co-op’s plans to use a narrow neighborhood road, Steam Whistle Way, as the store’s primary access.
After three Mill Pond property owners appealed the grocery store’s plans to the City Council, the co-op negotiated with them and submitted new designs that changed how the store would be accessed.
Decisions by boards like the Design Review Committee can be appealed to the City Council and, ultimately, to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
Portland-based attorney Karl Anuta, who has represented groups in Clatsop County and The Dalles opposing Walmart, wrote a letter to the Design Review Committee on behalf of Responsible Growth Astoria. He asked the committee to reject the site plan or at least ask Grocery Outlet to submit alternative designs.
Responsible Growth Astoria emerged as a Facebook group in July that expressed concerns about where Grocery Outlet planned to build and the potential impact of the store on local businesses and traffic. The group accused the city of fast-tracking the developers’ application.
But Responsible Growth Astoria has since come under scrutiny by residents and community leaders who say they do not know who is behind the campaign. On its Facebook page, the group identifies itself only as “Astoria residents, neighbors and merchants who love our community.”