Riverfront hotel project moving forward

November 24 — A new riverside hotel project in Uniontown received two key approvals on Tuesday night.

The Astoria Planning Commission unanimously approved two deviations from the road setback requirements and window design standards. That, said city planner Alex Murphy, opens the doors for the project to continue.

Ganesh Sonpatki, owner of Param Hotel Corp., which operates the Astoria Riverwalk Inn in the West Mooring Basin, hopes to develop a 39-room hotel in the former NW Natural property next to the Astoria Bridge.

The project uses the former Paragon Packing building designed by famous Astoria architects John E. Wicks and his daughter, Ebba Wicks Brown.

The proposed hotel, designed by Astoria architect Stuart Emmons, seeks to preserve this building and create a new three-story addition to the rear.

But Tuesday’s spread hearings tested some of the city’s most recent development rules.

In 2019, the city approved codes for the Bridge Vista overlay area that placed height restrictions and other restrictions on new construction in part of the riverside near the Astoria Bridge. The Codes were an effort to preserve river views and public access to the river.

With the building proposed by Emmons and Sonpatki, the rules hit a snag.

Emmons and Sonpatki want to keep the historic character of the old Paragon building intact. They also want to build a profitable hotel.

The addition they proposed is larger than the existing building. Under Bridge Vista overlay codes, new construction must achieve a certain maximum setback from the road. This setback requirement brings buildings closer 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 would bring the wider wings of the new addition all the way to Marine Drive, on either side of the building. Or he could reduce the size of the bill. The first option would negate the effort to preserve the Paragon building. The second option, he argued, would result in a much smaller and potentially less viable hotel.

Hotels are allowed in this area, the planning commissioners noted, and they hailed Sonpatki and Emmons’ desire to preserve the Paragon building.

Commissioner Pat Corcoran said he felt that following the letter of the law would do more harm in this case. It seemed, he and other commissioners agreed, that hotel developers were trying to respect the intent of the law.

Daryl Moore, the chairman of the committee, noted that the Bridge Vista overlay is difficult to develop, but the hotel project appears to accommodate the needs of this area.

“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 overcome, including a number of items that still need to be reviewed by city staff.

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