- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Brushing aside emotional appeals to do more to protect views of the Astoria Bridge and Columbia River, the Astoria City Council has agreed to place new development restrictions in Uniontown but preserve the region’s history as a working waterfront.

The Bridge Vista phase of the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan would restrict development over the river near the bridge and just west of Second Street, where new buildings could be no higher than the riverbank.

But new projects over other portions of the river in Uniontown could feature buildings up to 35 feet high and 150 feet wide with 40-foot corridors in between to preserve views. On shore, buildings of up to 45 feet high would be allowed with stepbacks to soften the impact.

The City Council voted 4-1 on Monday to advance Bridge Vista with an amendment that would ensure no variances could be granted to building height restrictions over the river. City Councilor Drew Herzig voted “no.”

Councilors rejected a motion by Herzig to restrict all development north of the Astoria Riverfront Trolley tracks to the height of the riverbank, and all development south of the tracks to 25 feet high. Herzig and Councilor Cindy Price voted for the motion, while Mayor Arline LaMear, Councilor Zetty Nemlowill and Councilor Russ Warr voted against the idea.

A final vote on Bridge Vista is expected at a council meeting later this month.

Residents filled the council chamber to urge councilors to impose greater development restrictions and prevent new buildings that could block views. No resident who testified at the meeting spoke in favor of the Bridge Vista plan, which was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission in April.

“This is an area where there were canneries,” LaMear said. “It is a waterfront. It’s a working waterfront. And I think that the vision plan spells out that there are certain areas that should be open for views, and certain areas that are more useful for development.”

The mayor questioned whether the overwhelming opposition from residents at the meeting, which included many who have fought development projects over the years, reflected the range of public opinion in the city.

“Not everyone in this city - not everyone - feels that there should be no development along the river,” LaMear said.

Nemlowill described the Riverfront Vision Plan as a “balanced approach to commerce and conservation.”

While Bridge Vista would not eliminate future development over the river, she said, “it limits it drastically in size, mass, width, with view corridors.”

Herzig and Price believe, however, that public opinion is clearly against development over the river.

“I just really do not know how long the City Council can continue to ignore the wishes of the majority of its constituents,” Price said.

Pressure to develop

The Riverfront Vision Plan was the city’s response to the tremendous development pressure along the river before the recession undermined the financing and market demand for the projects.

The plan was adopted in 2009 but the first phase - the Civic Greenway leg from 16th Street to 41st Street - was not approved by the City Council until last year. Bridge Vista, which covers Portway to Second Street, is the second phase. The Urban Core - Second Street to 16th - and the Neighborhood Greenway - 41st Street to Alderbrook Lagoon - are scheduled to follow.

The goal is for the city to have new planning requirements to guide future development.

Bridge Vista would replace existing guidelines that are more permissive. “Essentially, you could have a wall of buildings along this area, along the river,” said Matt Hastie, a city consultant.

Many of the residents who oppose Bridge Vista acknowledge the new planning requirements would be an improvement. New condominiums, hotels, bars and restaurants, and fuel terminals, for example, would be prohibited over the water. On shore, a pedestrian-friendly zone and broader commercial uses could serve both residents and tourists.

But many do not think the restrictions are nearly strong enough to protect views.

“People don’t come to Astoria, or live in Astoria, because they have such nice buildings on the river,” Alan Batchelder, a retired family therapist, told the City Council.

George “Mick” Hague, a retired teacher who lives at Columbia House, an over-the-water condominium near Second Street he considers “a wart” on the riverfront, said views of the river are enjoyed by both residents and visitors.

“Why would we want to destroy that?” he asked. “Why?”


Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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