Astoria poised to adopt waterfront building restrictions

Special Reports

The code amendments would limit height, size and placement of buildings

ASTORIA, Ore. (KOIN) — Property owners looking to build or add onto existing structures around the Astoria-Megler bridge will likely face new limitations. City officials are set to adopt a set of code amendments including height and size restrictions that would, in theory, protect views of the river.

The proposed restrictions come after a “public outcry” last year, when the City Council voted to allow developers to build a four-story hotel along the riverfront, according to Mayor Bruce Jones.

“What I said when I voted as part of the majority to approve it was, ‘If you don’t like the code, you’ve got to change the code,'” Jones told KOIN 6.

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The Bridge Vista Overlay Zone extends from Portway Street to 2nd Street (City of Astoria)

So that’s what they did, sending the matter to the Planning Commission. After numerous public meetings, hearings and two City Council meetings, the city is close to adopting the code amendments that would apply to the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone (the area between Portway and 2nd Street).

They would lower the height limit to 28 feet, or 35 feet if the developer allows public river access on the property. Buildings could not exceed 30,000 square feet, and could only take up half of a lot’s area. The amendments also call for a 60-foot view corridor between buildings. And buildings must have a north-south orientation, meaning the sides of the building that are parallel to the river must be the shortest sides of the building.

bvo north south orientation 2019
(City of Astoria)

According to the proposal, historic buildings could still be repaired, restored and reconstructed.

Of course, some property owners are less than thrilled about the proposed restrictions.

“I’ve been very concerned,” said Steve Fick, the owner of Fishhawk Fisheries. He said he has owned a property along the river since 1989. It consists of his fish plant, as well as a separate building from the late 1800s that Fick plans to turn into a distillery. It’s located in the Urban Core, the section of the riverfront that Jones said city planners will evaluate next. The current Bridge Vista Overlay Zone discussion has him worried about his future, since Fick said he has enjoyed having the option of adding onto his property.

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Steve Fick runs a business along the Astoria riverfront and is in the process of starting a distillery as well. He’s worried building restrictions will eventually impact him (Hannah Ray Lambert)

“If I wanted to put some kind of housing or something say upstairs here, they don’t want me to do it,” he said. “And we’ve got a shortage of housing. Why wouldn’t you want to put housing up there if it takes the pressure off of the overall housing?”

He is also skeptical about how much the restrictions will actually do to protect views. Standing on the riverwalk, he pointed north and asked, “When you look straight ahead, if that’s 35 or 28 (feet), are you going to see any more or less of the river?” The answer, he believes, is no.

Finding ‘balance’

Jones said the issue is “really about balancing competing needs” between business, residents and tourists.

“If you don’t allow any development, then our economy’s gonna get throttled and that hurts everyone in the long run,” he said. “If you allow too much development then you end up destroying what it is that tourists come here for in the first place.”

The code amendments are close to final. There will be a second reading at the next City Council meeting on October 21 and, barring any counselors having a dramatic change of heart, Jones expects the code to be adopted.

However, that doesn’t mean you’ll never see a tall building go up on the riverfront again. The hotel that started the whole discussion is still allowed to move forward, as is any other business that gets its plans in before the code change.

The city also left some flexibility for a couple property owners: The Port of Astoria, and Fort George Brewery, which recently bought the former Astoria Warehousing property in order to expand its production and distribution.

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For George Brewery as pictured Oct. 7, 2019 (Hannah Ray Lambert)

“The other major thing we did with the Bridge Vista Overlay … (is) we created the opportunity for planning districts,” Jones said. “It gives them the opportunity within five years to develop a master plan and then come to the city with the master plan, which could include requests for deviations from some of the code that we’ve just established.”

The possible exceptions are meant to encourage economic success.

“We want the Port to be successful,” Jones said. “We want Fort George to be successful.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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