Astoria approves design for Owens-Adair expansion

Jan. 25—Astoria's Historic Landmarks Commission has signed off on design plans for the expansion of the Owens-Adair, an affordable housing complex near downtown.

The Owens II, a new four-story, 50-unit apartment complex, will mirror the building on 15th and Exchange streets and serve low-income seniors and people with disabilities. The Northwest Oregon Housing Authority was awarded key state funding for the project in August.

In a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, the commission mostly agreed the proposed building design is compatible with adjacent historic buildings and suitable for the location.

The new design incorporated feedback the commission gave in late December, including new plans for the windows and exterior material of the building.

The new design includes a textured, dark olive-colored cement siding with wood accents, large windows and a dark bronze roof.

Many neighbors and others were still not satisfied with the design, one even calling the new building a "monstrosity." A group of neighbors across the street from the site hired an attorney and have expressed concerns about the potential for the construction of a subgrade parking garage to disrupt the foundation of their properties.

"We are definitely sympathetic that you've poured your heart and soul and your money into your homes, and you're concerned," McAndrew Burns, the president of the Historic Landmarks Commission, said. "And there's not one of us up here that would say that's not a valid concern that you've invested in your house and there's change coming perhaps, and you're concerned about what it might do to your foundation or your parking, or what your streetscape looks like.

"We have very strict criteria that we have to look at," he continued. "There are very specific departments, and we all sort of need to stay in our lane. And our lane is not engineering."

Burns, the executive director of the Clatsop County Historical Society, also noted support in moving forward from the city's historian John Goodenberger, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Lower Columbia Preservation Society.

"Do I love this building? No," Burns said. "Do I think it's a horrible addition to Astoria? No. Do I think it can be a little better? Yeah, I do. But it meets the criteria that we have to look at."

Commissioner Jackson Ross noted the proposal is for a 50-unit residential building.

"It won't look like a house," he said. "It won't look like a hospital that stood on those grounds before. And you can't choose a design that looks like a Craftsman, a Victorian, a midcentury — it's going to be a unique look.

"I think the design is good. I think the purpose is laudable. And we can't make everybody happy with a specific design, a specific building in a specific place."

Commissioner Lynette Thiel-Smith, who was the sole vote against moving forward, said she would like to see the design fine-tuned.

"I do think you're much further in the direction," Thiel-Smith said. "I still would like to see it pushed just a little bit to make it more residential, less a box with application on it."

With approval from the Historic Landmarks Commission, the project team can proceed to apply for building and engineering permits.