Astoria rejects church annex appeal

·3 min read

Oct. 19—Bethany Free Lutheran Church will proceed with plans to build a 5,000-square-foot annex on a vacant lot in Uppertown over objections by some neighbors and one longtime Astoria family.

At a hearing Monday night, the City Council upheld the Planning Commission's approval for the project and rejected an appeal by the Tadei family and other neighbors. The group can appeal the city's decision to the state.

The Tadei family argued that the church annex, planned for a vacant lot off Lief Erikson Drive across from Safeway, is too large and will be incompatible with the historic neighborhood above.

Church leaders say they plan to use the annex as a community space to benefit more than the congregation. They also hope to get the annex designated as an emergency center.

The project highlighted the tension between property rights and what others consider quality of life considerations. After multiple public hearings before different city boards, neighbors expressed frustration and exhaustion with the process and the back-and-forth community discussions.

"This seems like it's gotten really out of hand," said Jason Hall, who lives adjacent to the church lot, as he explained his reason for speaking impartially about the project even though he had signed on to the appeal against the annex.

His main concern was the distance between the project and his property. City consultant Rosemary Johnson noted the annex was being built with even more space than the city requires between the structure and neighboring properties.

Under earlier site plans, the annex would have blocked 89-year-old Vince Tadei's view of the Columbia River. His family home is next to the church's property. Bethany Lutheran opted to reposition the building and is working with the city to possibly relocate a sewer easement — and shoulder the cost — to ease the family's concerns.

Several neighboring homeowners, including Tadei, say they will lose access to the back of their properties if the annex is built. They have relied on access across the church property over the years, but never established formal easements to ensure ongoing access if Bethany Lutheran decided to develop the lot.

One person who spoke against the project at Monday's hearing worried construction at the base of the hill may exacerbate landslide issues above. According to city maps, the property is not near a known landslide.

The City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the annex project and against the appeal. City Councilor Tom Hilton was the sole "no" vote.

"To separate the emotion from this is a challenge to me," he said. He lives in the neighborhood and has known the Tadei family, as well as many Bethany Lutheran congregants, for most of his life.

But the other city councilors said they were satisfied with the Planning Commission's reasoning and city staff's responses to issues raised in the appeal.

City Councilor Tom Brownson noted that the zoning on the lot allows Bethany Lutheran or any other developer to construct a much larger building for a variety of uses, some of which might be even less palatable to the neighborhood.

The land has been vacant for years, City Councilor Joan Herman added, and what the church wants to do is allowed under the city's codes. Like other city councilors, she felt the annex would not impact the historical integrity of the neighborhood.

"Honestly," she said, "I think the neighbors are up in arms over something that will not come to pass."

Perhaps in the future, the annex will be seen as a buffer between the commercial district below and the neighborhood above, City Councilor Roger Rocka suggested.

"I think it's going to have a positive effect," he said.

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