Pacific Seafood confronted a wave of community concerns Tuesday over a proposed 125-worker dormitory in the former drug treatment center at Astoria Pointe.
The seafood processor applied for a one-year conditional use permit at the nearly 16,000-square-foot building off Exchange Street in Uniontown. The building, opened as a nursing home in 1966 and reopened as a drug treatment center in 2006, closed two years ago and has since sat vacant.
The property, surrounded by single-family homes and narrow, hilly streets without sidewalks, is zoned for high-density residential. Neighbors came out in droves to City Hall on Tuesday to raise concerns about traffic, safety, noise and other impacts they argue will result from moving so many workers into a quiet neighborhood.
City staff recommended approval of the company’s application with several conditions. The permit would last a year. The company would provide three shuttle buses to take most workers to and from Pacific Seafood’s processing plant in Warrenton and for shopping. No more than 13 employee vehicles would be allowed to park at the dorms. The company would also have to add 24 bike spaces.
Pacific Seafood was recently approved by the Warrenton City Commission to turn part of a machine shop in Hammond into a 70-bed bunkhouse, which could increase to 90 beds after a one-year trial. The approval followed a good-neighbor agreement approved by the company and city to govern the behavior of residents and the eviction process.
Mike Robinson, the company’s attorney, and Mike Miliucci, another attorney and manager of special projects, argued the dorms are necessary to allow the new Warrenton plant to operate at full capacity in the busy summer months and not take away from the region’s housing stock.
Miliucci said he was tasked 1 1/2 years ago with finding housing along the Oregon and Washington state coasts for Pacific Seafood’s workers but ran into a housing market just as tight as Portland, with apartments running on average $1,250 a month, he said.
Workers in the company’s rented housing, who pay about $10 a day, have to abide by house rules for good behavior or risk losing a place to stay while they work, Miliucci said. He argued the company has a proven track record of providing worker housing, including about 60 workers in rented cottages in Westport, Washington, 60 workers housed in Warrenton and about 200 in rented motels and hotels elsewhere along the coast during the summer.
“They work very hard, and at the end of the day, they just want to go home at the living quarters and eat and sleep,” he said.
Neighbors worried about the impact of so many people. David Gasser, who lives on the eastern edge of the Astoria Pointe property and was one of about 10 neighbors testifying against the project, said he experienced damaged fences, dented walls and noise issues with just 20 to 40 people in the treatment center.
“The idea of 125 people coming and going at 4 in the morning,” he said. “I simply don’t know how I would stay there, because it would be too noisy, too smoky and intolerable. I want cheap housing, but I’m 20 feet from the east door.”
Neighbors argued the facility and neighborhood is not fit for so many people and will lead to decreased property values and increased danger for pedestrians. They called for a lower number of workers to be housed at the treatment center, which Miliucci said once housed nearly 80 people.
“I think this is an accident waiting to happen,” said Scott Fenton, who lives nearby. “The living conditions for the workers? Let’s be honest. This is a barracks.”
Tammy Sanderson, a real estate consultant with John L. Scott Realty representing building owner Eleanor Dooner, said allowing Pacific Seafood to lease the building will help keep her client’s property value up. Dooner, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and her late husband, Bill, a recovering alcoholic, opened drug and alcohol treatment centers around the country. But lowering insurance reimbursements made the treatment center financially infeasible, she said.
Pacific Seafood asked that the hearing be continued to next Tuesday so it could address concerns that were raised and craft a draft good-neighbor agreement for Astoria. Miliucci said the company is willing to listen to neighbors’ concerns and make changes, including a lower number of workers than the 125 proposed.
“I’m willing to talk to the neighbors about 80” residents, Miliucci said. “It doesn’t have to be 120.”