Grad students create action plan for stretch of Fourth Plain

'Fourth Plain Forward' aims to revitalize area known as Vancouver's international business district

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter

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A group of Portland State University graduate students has created an action plan for the city of Vancouver to revitalize a half-mile stretch of East Fourth Plain Boulevard that’s known as the city’s international business district.

The ethnically diverse area’s challenges include a poverty rate is double the city average, according to the students’ report, which was presented to the Vancouver Planning Commission on May 26. Three out of four residents of the area are renters, and there is a significant homeless population. Many people walk and bike along the wide, auto-oriented corridor, where heavy traffic volumes and speeding cars endanger pedestrians. (The area is a hot spot of car vs. pedestrian collisions.)

In addition, large parking lots separate businesses, which are set back inconsistently from the street. About 14 percent of commercial buildings are in poor condition; 15 percent are vacant. Public spaces are frequent targets of litter and graffiti.

Tackling these problems were six students in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, who spent six months working on the “Fourth Plain Forward” project on behalf of the city to fulfill a requirement for their master’s degrees. The students identified specific tactics the city can take to support the stabilization and growth of small business, expand opportunities for families and support local economic development.

“Partnering with students is a great opportunity for the city,” said Rebecca Kennedy, the city’s Business Assistance Coordinator. “We get really great enthusiasm. Students bring new ideas.”

Launched in January, the project is intended to guide the implementation of the city’s 2007 Fourth Plain Subarea Plan, developed as part of an extensive public process to determine a community vision for the corridor. The 2007 plan led to zoning changes and the area’s designation as a target for federal Community Development Block Grant funds. More wasn’t accomplished due to the recession, according to the students’ report.

“This is an excellent time for the city to revisit the Subarea Plan with a renewed effort to advance its vision for Fourth Plain,” the report states, citing changes that have taken place since 2007. Those changes include the recovery of the economy and the real estate market, the influx of new immigrants and C-Tran’s plans to begin building the new Vine BRT bus service this summer.

The PSU project focuses on a strip of Fourth Plain from about Fairmount Avenue to Rossiter Lane, which is surrounded by two of Vancouver’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods of Latino, Eastern European and Asian residents, Kennedy said. As part of their work, the students interviewed dozens of residents, business owners and community stakeholders.

The students’ final report emphasizes that the recommended actions are designed for “deep community partnership.”

“The city can initiate actions, but the work and voice of residents, business owners and community leaders are integral to moving Fourth Plain Forward,” the report states.

The full report will be posted Tuesday at www.cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/4th-plain-forward.

Fourth Plain Forward

Below are the highlights of the Fourth Plain Forward’s recommended goals and action strategies for the city.

Cultivate a vibrant and welcoming business district:

• Create and fund a district manager position who can plan cultural events, organize crime prevention and cleanup efforts, establish a public market, establish a business owner-centered storefront improvement program and advocate for key development projects.

• Organize community policing groups, a business watch program and a crime hot line in English and Spanish.

• Help business owners buy security cameras and lighting to deter property crimes.

Stabilize and grow small businesses:

• Offer technical assistance to businesses (help them with business plans and marketing strategies).

• Connect home-based businesses (cleaning, landscaping, child care, etc.) with institutional and corporate customers.

• Provide specialized support for home-based child care businesses.

• Facilitate crowd-funded small business loans.

Create a growth pipeline for food entrepreneurs:

• Develop a commercial kitchen incubator — a commercial kitchen with technical support staff to help food businesses master operations, refine business plans and connect with sales and distribution channels.

• Partner with institutions (such as Clark College) and agencies to offer opportunities such as food kiosks for food entrepreneurs to sell their products.

• Extend the food truck pilot program to Fourth Plain.

• Sponsor booths at the Vancouver Farmers Market for low-income food entrepreneurs.

Prioritize pedestrian safety and access:

• Create footpaths that connect neighborhoods to Fourth Plain.

• Prioritize Fourth Plain’s surrounding neighborhoods when the city decides where to add or repair sidewalks.

• Install pedestrian-scale lighting over the sidewalk and paint existing bike lanes green to increase their visibility.

• Paint intersection murals to act as a gateway for the business district and create a sense of identity.

Foster inclusive, transit-oriented development:

• Encourage consolidation of driveways to reduce curb cuts.

• Encourage shared parking between adjacent lots.

• Relax right-of-way improvement standards for mid-size renovations and expansions.

• Market development opportunities on Fourth Plain.

• Facilitate low-interest loans for projects with significant community benefit

• Provide development fee relief.