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News / Business / Clark County Business

Upheaval in Uptown as developers acquire real estate

Residents, business owners brace as developers buy up lots — even whole blocks

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: December 27, 2017, 6:01am
4 Photos
Wattle Tree Place is pictured behind a for-sale sign on East 16th Street. Recently, the entire street block containing six homes was sold.
Wattle Tree Place is pictured behind a for-sale sign on East 16th Street. Recently, the entire street block containing six homes was sold. Photo Gallery

The sale of an eight-lot block in the Arnada neighborhood has some residents and business owners both curious and concerned about the future of the area.

One of those business owners, Sophie Wegecsanyi, a co-owner of Wattle Tree Place, said she would like to see the new owner of the block work with existing tenants rather than raze and redevelop.

If the developer chooses the latter, Wegecsanyi said, Wattle Tree might have to move.

“It is nerve-wracking, though. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this,” she said of the cafe that also serves as a neighborhood gathering place and holistic healing center.

Wattle Tree is in one of six houses on what is called Block 78, bordered by East 16th, 17th, D and C streets. The cafe is joined by a hair salon, property management office and rental units. The eight-lot block, listed for $2.4 million, recently sold, so more details will roll out in the coming weeks.

The block is in the ambiguous midtown area where the commercial downtown area gives way to more residential streets.

It’s unclear yet what will become of the block, one of several in the same, rapidly changing area where developers are looking for opportunities for denser mixed-use projects.

Wegecsanyi said people who live in new apartments near the cafe need to have places like Wattle Tree to go, and she is interested in taking over half of the block to open a hostel, teaching kitchen and an educational movement center.

When Wegecsanyi and her sister took over the home at 306 E. 16th St., they tried to maintain the historic character and value of the 1910-built house. It’s the youngest of the six houses on the block; the rest were built in 1905 and 1901, according to Clark County property records.

Various groups meet at Wattle Tree. The Arnada Neighborhood Association recently had its Christmas party there. Neighbors were concerned that the businesses and people who rent homes on the block could be displaced, said Heather Beecher, the neighborhood association’s secretary.

A flier advertising the block for sale circulated on Facebook and generated discussions about the historic value of the block, the inevitability of change and the need for more housing.

Michelle Wollert owns a rental property in Arnada and can see both sides. Development brings people to the neighborhoods, interesting businesses and vitality at night. When you choose to live in downtown or uptown, density is part of the deal, she said.

Her house at 19th and C streets was moved there from Block 78 by the Bedrossians in 1981 to create space for a parking lot. The Bedrossians owned the block, along with other properties.

Robert Bedrossian, who was a well-known ophthalmologist, died in 2010. His wife Carolyn Bedrossian died in May. So, ownership of the block is in a trust.

While digging into the history of her own home, Wollert found out that Paddy Hough used to own the block. In 1877, Ann Denny (Hough’s future wife) bought the property for $200 in gold coins from someone who lived in Victoria, Canada, according to the Clark County Historical Museum. Hough sold the lots between 1908 and 1913.

Wollert knows it’s not practical to keep all old homes and remembers how expensive it was to move the Kiggins House from its original location where Vancouver Community Library is now. The Woods family paid $100,000 to relocate the historic 1907-built house to Arnada and another $400,000 to restore and renovate it.

“It’s interesting and sad to see the lost history. Most people probably don’t even know who owned the lot,” Wollert said. “But you really need the housing here.”

Another property that the Bedrossians owned at 20th Street and Broadway used to have two houses on it. Now, there’s a 30-unit apartment complex being built.

Block 78’s sale was different than most because there was the option of buying the whole block or its eight individual lots. It was on the market for about a month and a half.

Mike Lamb, a broker at Windermere Stellar Vancouver who represented the seller, said there were multiple offers including two to buy the full block. One of those offers was accepted and the sale should close in February, he said. At that point, more information will be available about the block’s future.

“There were lots of options on this block. The downtown zoning provides lots of options,” Lamb said.

It’s zoned city center, which is “designed to provide for a concentrated mix of retail, office, civic and housing uses in downtown Vancouver,” and lies within the Downtown Plan District, according to city documents.

‘Vancouver’s going to change’

Block 78 is not the only block that could look different in years to come.

Construction is well underway on The Uptown, an upscale 167-unit apartment complex with retail on the ground floor.

What’s known as the Hutton block, a gravel lot bordered by West 15th, 16th, Main and Washington streets, is for sale.

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Vancouver Housing Authority owns the neighboring block east of Block 78. It’s empty aside from a vacant house and some trees, and it had a community garden.

Saeed Hajarizadeh, deputy director of the housing authority, said the agency received three proposals for multi-family residential projects last month. The agency has narrowed down its options and is getting more info from a developer.

Hajarizadeh said the housing authority purchased the land in 2011 and its value has nearly doubled in the last decade. With people seeing buildings rising on Vancouver’s waterfront, they’re wondering what’s going to happen next in the downtown and uptown areas while developers are jockeying to get the best price for in-demand land.

“Vancouver’s going to change,” Hajarizadeh said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith