Nov. 24—A new riverfront hotel project in Uniontown landed two key approvals on Tuesday night.
The Astoria Planning Commission unanimously approved two variances to road setback requirements and window design standards. This, said City Planner Alex Murphy, unlocks the doors for the project to continue.
Ganesh Sonpatki, the owner of Param Hotel Corp., which operates the Astoria Riverwalk Inn at the West Mooring Basin, hopes to develop a 39-room hotel at the former NW Natural property next to the Astoria Bridge.
The project makes use of the former Paragon Packing building designed by famed Astoria architects John E. Wicks and his daughter, Ebba Wicks Brown.
The proposed hotel, designed by Astoria architect Stuart Emmons, seeks to preserve that building and create a new three-story addition at the back.
But Tuesday's variance hearings put some of the city's newest development rules to the test.
In 2019, the city approved codes for the Bridge Vista overlay zone that placed height and other restrictions on new construction in a stretch of riverfront near the Astoria Bridge. The codes were an effort to preserve river views and public access to the river.
With Emmons and Sonpatki's proposed building, the rules hit a snag.
Emmons and Sonpatki want to keep the historical character of the former Paragon building intact. They also want to build a profitable hotel.
The addition they've proposed is wider than the existing building. Under the Bridge Vista overlay codes, new construction needs to hit a certain maximum setback from the road. This setback requirement brings buildings close to the road to create a streetscape consistent with how other commercial buildings are placed in Uniontown.
To comply, Emmons would have had to consider a design that brought those wider wings of the new addition up to Marine Drive, on either side of the building. Or he could reduce the size of the addition. The first option would negate the effort to preserve the Paragon building. The second option, he argued, would make for a much smaller, potentially less viable hotel.
Hotels are allowed in this area, planning commissioners noted, and they commended Sonpatki and Emmons' desire to preserve the Paragon building.
Commissioner Pat Corcoran said he felt, in this case, more harm would be done by meeting the letter of the law. It seemed, he and other commissioners agreed, that the hotel developers were trying to meet the intent of the law.
Daryl Moore, the commission's president, noted that the Bridge Vista overlay is challenging to develop under, but the hotel project seemed to be considerate to the needs of that zone.
"There are times when the intent of the law is more important than the letter of the law," he said.
The hotel has other hurdles to clear, including a number of items that still need to be reviewed by city staff.