Worried about the development of hotels along the Columbia River in Astoria, a group plans to petition the City Council for zoning changes to protect the waterfront.
The petition, posted online Sunday night by Friends of the Astoria Waterfront, gained 39 signatures by Monday afternoon, with a goal of collecting 50. By this morning, there were 52 signatures and a new goal of collecting 100.
The petition’s authors include Sarah Jane Bardy, who serves on the city’s Design Review Committee and was outspoken in her criticism of plans to build a four-story Marriott-brand hotel at the base of Second Street. She was scolded by Mayor Bruce Jones for her comments and behavior during an appeal hearing on the hotel in December.
The Fairfield Inn and Suites project has drawn criticism from others in the community, though, and became a campaign issue in local elections.
John Orr, a former attorney who lost a bid for the state House last year, said he and others in the Friends group want to see new hotels go through a conditional use process that includes an assessment of how the new business might impact existing infrastructure.
Some zones in Astoria, including the lot where the Fairfield Inn will be built, allow hotels outright. The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission and Design Review Committee reviewed the details of the hotel developer’s plans only because the lot was near a historic cannery boiler and fell under the Bridge Vista overlay, a portion of the Riverfront Vision Plan that guides development along the river.
A conditional use process gives people more of a voice in how the waterfront is developed and what they want to see protected, Orr said.
“The (Historic Landmarks Commission) and (the Design Review Committee) get to guide them aesthetically, but the point is they get to build automatically,” Bardy said.
Yet, she added, “We know we have issues with our sewage treatment … we know we have parking issues. We know that we have only two-lane roads running into town. It just doesn’t make sense to put priority on these hotels that are going to have however many dozens to hundreds of rooms when the infrastructure can’t handle our population of 9,000 people or so.”
Public Works Director Jeff Harrington said sewage capacity isn’t a problem for the city yet. Right now, the city is looking into instances of higher concentrations in the system, a different challenge than capacity. Harrington isn’t sure how much any one development project would impact the sewage system overall.
“We don’t know enough to distinctly say,” he said. “But everything is old, we know that for sure.”
Questions about how to develop the waterfront are at the forefront of community and city discussions.
At the same time city boards were evaluating the Fairfield Inn, another hotelier indicated an interest in developing a large hotel on Youngs Bay. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission has held lengthy work sessions to discuss guidelines for the Urban Core, the final section of the Riverfront Vision Plan.
The Planning Commission recently approved a new waterfront hotel project at a former seafood processing plant from the developers behind Buoy Beer and the Adrift Hotel.
City leaders — most notably Jones, after he voted in favor of allowing the Fairfield Inn’s developers to proceed and a few weeks before he took over as mayor — have urged people to push for changes to the city’s code if they are concerned about hotels on the waterfront.
When Jones held his first “Meet the Mayor” event in the Astoria Library last week, former Planning Commissioner Jan Mitchell, a member of Friends of the Astoria Waterfront who is married to City Councilor Roger Rocka, had a question. Often, the same people attend City Council meetings, Mitchell noted. What is the best way for these familiar faces to show that they represent more people than just themselves?
Jones suggested they bring a petition.
Many of the signers of the petition on waterfront development said they live in Astoria, but the petition has received support from people outside of the city.
“We love the waterfront and visit often,” wrote one man from Eugene. “Please don’t ruin your best asset.”