Okay. I admit it.
I just don't get it.
For some reason a few people are digging their heels in over the potential demolition of the old Waldorf Hotel. The thing is a sore on the backside of Astoria and really needs to go but the same people who tried to run an absentee resident for Mayor, unsuccessfully, have now decided this 1920's classic derelict needs to be saved. For what? I have no idea. The building has been empty for decades right next to City Hall in spite of attempts at restoration that failed each time.
They have established a Facebook page with a hilarious video and have taken to calling the old wreak "The Hotel Merwyn" claiming it is unique and should be saved. It is not unique. It is the last of the 1920's hotels to be built in downtown Astoria but it's not the only example. The others have been reclaimed and remade into respectable and very popular hotels.
The video, which is voiced by someone who sounds very similar to the failed Mayoral candidate, claims the old building is on the national register of historic places. That's misleading. Downtown Astoria is a National Historic District but not every building is worthy of saving otherwise Safeway's relic would still be in place protected from the wreaking ball and nice new things like the Garden of Surging Waves would not be there.
To be fair, if someone wanted to make an offer to the Groat Brothers LLC and take on the responsibility to bring the thing back to life I have no problem with that. That's not what is going on here.
It's interesting to note that no one claims public ownership of the Facebook page. Until just recently the section showing the address of the group had the wrong zip code for an Astoria based effort.
Just recently the author of the Facebook site asked readers to take a lengthy survey of "other concerns' they may have, apparently trying to get something going after it has become quite plain most people are not impressed with the idea of leaving the Waldorf as it is.
The survey is a fishing expedition with some laughable questions. So what we can take from this is "someone" is trying to create controversy without purpose.
Have at it.
It's very entertaining.
I was taking a break beween the show and heading for the planning commission meeting yesterday afternoon when there was a knock on my front door. Standing there was a campaign worker for the Larry Taylor for Astoria Mayor campaign. For those of you who follow the show it must be obvious by now that I'm not a big Taylor supporter to begin with so my first inclination was to not answer the door at all. Temptation got the better of me. I couldn't pass up the opportunity this presented to find out exactly how Taylor is being pitched on the doorstep.
The gentleman asked for my wife at first (she is one of those who votes at the last possible moment), then he asked if I am Mr. Freel I said "yes" and the pitch began.
First he handed me a campaign postcard with Mr. Taylor's picture and a list of reasons to cast my vote for him. The campaigner asked me if I am at all familiar with Taylor to which I replied, quite honestly "The name is familiar..Who is he? To that the man replied Larry Taylor is a fifteen year resident of Astoria and he is asking for your vote for Mayor. "Larry wants to put the operation of Astoria on a business-like basis."
This is a line usually reserved for Republicans but..Okay.
I replied ' Well, It is a municipal government and not a business but okay" Then he stated "Larry believes that Astoria's finances need to be fixed"
I replied "The city is audited on a regular basis and always gets a clean opinion. As it stands today we are more than a million dollars in the black so what needs to be fixed?"
He didn't seem to have an answer for that and appeared taken aback as though he was completely unaware of those facts.
He then said 'Larry is very well qualified to be Mayor of Astoria because of his experience as a manager at Intel"
I replied, "Well we have a City Manager form of government so the Mayor doesn't manage. The Mayor leads which is quite different. What involvement has he had with city council committees or projects?"
The answer was honest. "None" he said.
I asked "So he's going from no involvment at all to Mayor? That seems quite a leap"
He replied "Not really. Larry's experience from Intel in management will more than make up for that"
At that point I was tempted to challenge him on the claim that Taylor is a 15 year resident when actually he has an address here that is a second home and he has been running the Clatsop County Democrats backroom as Chairman for some time while actually spending most of his time living in the Portland area but I let that go and instead asked " So do you live in Astoria?"
The answer was a shocker. "No", he said "I live in Naselle". "Naselle WASHINGTON!" I exclaimed. "Yes", he said.
I asked "What possible connection would you have to Astoria that would have you campaigning for the Mayor's race?"
He said "Well I'm not running, Larry is"
I didn't think anything could surprise me anymore. I was wrong. Not only was this guy not an Astorian..He doesn't even live in the state.
A guy who doesn't live here campaiging for a guy who says he'll move here fulltime if he becomes Mayor...........
That was all I could take.
I smiled. Handed his brochure back. Shook my head slowly and slowly closed my front door leaving him standing on my front porch wondering what just happened.
He didn't understand. How could he?
In a way it's emblematic of the Taylor campaign.
Astoria has a relatively new rule in it's code that effects commercial area proprties that become vacant. In came into effect with the derelict building codes established by the city. The code (posted on the city website) states:
Buildings located in commercial areas shall have some street presence by the display of goods in the storefront windows, interpretive displays, or some other activity that give the appearance of the building being occupied.
Displays in vacant buildings shall be reviewed and approved by the Community Development Director prior to installation. Displays shall be reviewed for the following:
a. The goods and/or interpretive displays should encompass a minimum of approximately 25% of the window area.
b. The displays shall be maintained in good condition and notfaded or deteriorated.
c. Content of the displays shall be in compliance with allowable uses within the zone.
d. Displays shall comply with the requirements of the Sign Code if applicable.
As rundown and obviously derelict as the Flavel-owned properties may be, you do see some pictures of old Astoria hanging in the windows which constitues a display of sorts. I doubt that the Community Development Director actually approved the display because it's kinda sad but at least it's something.
Empty storefronts became a more important issue with the awareness that came through the ADHDA's Building Blocks program. Empty windows create "blanks" that discourage walking which is key to a healthy downtown. Empty storefronts just shout the wrong message. This is obviously true for a downtown that is a darling of the Oregon Main Street program. It's not even a choice for building owners in commercial areas of town to comply. There is nothing ambiguous in the code, it's quite clear. I think it's probably a matter of communication.
As I write this there are empty windows in the commercial area of Astoria and that has been the case for months. The question this raises will be uncormfortable. Especially in view of the attention the Flavel properties have received and the massive fines levied by the city for non-compliance with city code. Granted, in the Flavel properties the city had to build a whole new derelict building code and the situation provides an extreme example but it's also true that laws that are not enforced are ignored. Laws that are not equally applied attract unending litigation. Actually, it's a little funny that the window display rule is just about the only code Mary Louise did comply with.
How many empty windows do you count in downtown Astoria?