When Pacific Seafood sought a way to address worker housing in Astoria, the reaction from neighbors was perhaps inevitable.
The company’s idea is that the old Astoria Pointe drug treatment center should be turned into a place for up to 125 workers to sleep after a day on the job at the Warrenton plant.
The immediate reaction of people living close by the Exchange Street building in Uniontown was to throw up arguments why it should not happen. Noise, traffic, safety and the potential impact on property values were all cited as potential negatives.
The company asked the city for a one-year conditional use permit to try out the creative idea. From the information made available to the public so far, we think there’s merit in giving this concept the green light.
Affordable and available worker housing is one of the North Coast’s biggest challenges. While we believe that leaders in Clatsop County are committed to creating an environment where this is addressed as a priority, the pace at which the private sector is investing in new projects isn’t as fast as anyone would like.
“Thinking outside the box” must be one of the most overused expressions in modern public policy discussions. But here is a company that is doing exactly that in Warrenton and Astoria. It needs to house its workers during the peak summer processing period without taking away from the region’s housing stock, much of which is not affordable.
Leaving the old 16,000-square-foot Astoria Pointe facility empty and at risk of deteriorating is absurd. Initially, the company would lease it from the owners.
It opened as a nursing home in 1966 and was converted into a drug treatment center in 2006. That closed two years ago and it has since sat vacant. Only 13 employees’ cars would be allowed to park outside — most workers would rely on company buses to shuttle them to and from work in Warrenton.
One key criterion in the decision is that this neighborhood is already zoned for high-density residential use.
Zoning practices in the Western states have always sought to balance big-picture community needs with individuals’ potential conflicting preferences. Some decades ago, “performance zoning” was a creditable attempt to inject some flexibility into land use decisions, in part to better monitor industrial users’ impacts on the environment. It fell out of favor amid continuing debates over the balance of rigidity versus flexibility on the part of governments that administered it.
However, there are certain parallels here. If there is clear evidence that the idea does not “perform,” then the experiment can end.
Pacific Seafood is already trying similar ventures to address its needs. Warrenton’s city leaders, reassured by the company’s commitment to work with neighbors to police any troublesome issues, recently approved a plan to convert part of a machine shop in Hammond into a 70-bed bunkhouse. This location could add 20 more beds if the first year trial is a success.
The North Coast has significant needs to be met and this latest Astoria project appears one positive option. And the concept of fish processing workers living together in Uniontown? Well, it certainly has historical precedent.