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Vancouver’s building moratorium sinks sale of Allen’s Crosley Lanes

City freezes new construction along area of Evergreen Boulevard, Grand Avenue for at least 6 months

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
Rachael and Don Allen, owners of Allen's Crosley Lanes, chat inside their bowling alley as customers test their skill nearby Wednesday. A yearlong moratorium on new development along Evergreen and Grand boulevards has taken property owners by surprise, including the Allens, who had a buyer on the property fall through as a result. The family has owned and operated the bowling alley since 1987.
Rachael and Don Allen, owners of Allen's Crosley Lanes, chat inside their bowling alley as customers test their skill nearby Wednesday. A yearlong moratorium on new development along Evergreen and Grand boulevards has taken property owners by surprise, including the Allens, who had a buyer on the property fall through as a result. The family has owned and operated the bowling alley since 1987. At top, a motorist drives past businesses while traveling east along East Evergreen Boulevard on Thursday. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It was the second week of November, and a buyer for Allen’s Crosley Lanes had been lined up. A call from the broker confirmed that a formal offer would come in the following week. Don and Rachael Allen, who have owned and operated the landmark Vancouver bowling alley since 1987, were ready.

More than ready. They’d renewed their passports.

“We had planned our retirement. We were picking out beaches,” Don Allen said.

Then, on Nov. 15, a written communication with official city of Vancouver letterhead arrived in the mail:

“To whom it may concern:

“This letter is to inform you about a temporary moratorium on new development in the commercial area around Evergreen and Grand Boulevards that may impact your property.”

As of Nov. 4, the letter continued, the city council had frozen all new construction along a T-shaped stretch of the two roadways. The decision halted any new development on Evergreen Boulevard from V Street to Grove Street, and along Grand Boulevard, from Evergreen to East Mill Plain Boulevard. The moratorium would last for at least six months, but would likely be extended to cover a full year. It’s possible, though unlikely, that yet another six-month extension could be tacked on.

The Evergreen corridor has seen almost no development in decades despite its proximity to downtown, and city leaders said the development moratorium would give them time to figure out what its future should look like. They’re hoping to instill regulations that would increase the area’s walkability, turning it into a vibrant neighborhood business district where people can live, work and recreate.

But the news torpedoed the Crosley Lanes sale. It also indefinitely postponed the Allens’ retirement — so close they could practically taste the pina coladas, after more than three decades spent running the family business. Don is 62; Rachel is 56.

“A lot of people have 401(k)s, they have pensions. This is our retirement. We’re sitting in it,” Don Allen said, perched in his bowling alley’s restaurant with Rachael Allen on Wednesday afternoon.

“There isn’t a developer in their right mind would pay that much money for this big a property and not know what they can do with it,” Rachael Allen added. “I wouldn’t blame anybody. That would be ludicrous.”

Why a moratorium?

The stretches along Evergreen and Grand boulevards are two out of five in Vancouver eyed for a renaissance, according to Bryan Snodgrass, the city’s principal planner. It’s part of the city’s Commercial Corridors Strategy: a full-throttle community planning process aimed at enhancing existing corridors, promoting economic development and adding density near transit lines.

The ultimate goal is to create “20-minute neighborhoods” — communities where your favorite coffee shop, your dry cleaner, your grocery store, your nearest park and all the other little bits and pieces of daily life are less than a 20-minute walk away.

Other corridors under consideration include Mill Plain Boulevard from East Reserve Street to Southeast 192nd Avenue, Fourth Plain Boulevard from Interstate 5 to Northeast 172nd Avenue, and the St. Johns/St. James Couplet from Burnt Bridge Creek to Northeast 68th Street.

The current moratorium only applies to the stretches of Grand and Evergreen.

“Current regulations don’t recognize the unique built environment of these corridors, or promote development that would in all cases be consistent with strengthening neighborhood business districts,” Snodgrass told the city council in a presentation on Dec. 2.

The halt on any new development took businesses and residents by surprise. That was on purpose, said City Attorney Jonathan Young.

“By design, there was not outreach before the emergency moratorium, and that’s really dictated by state law in Washington state,” Young said.

Had the city provided notice, Young explained, it could have opened up a race to file land-use applications before Nov. 4. Now that the moratorium is in place, the city plans to conduct a thorough public outreach process, he added.

Two weeks after receiving their letter, the Allens attended the city council meeting to express frustration over how the moratorium was imposed.

“I don’t expect you to change your mind on the moratorium. But I want to let you know that these decisions do impact people,” Don Allen told the city council.

Pinned down

The Allens didn’t make the decision to sell lightly.

Don Allen is a third-generation bowling alley man. His father operated bowling businesses in Portland, as did his grandfather. Rachael and Don met at a bowling alley. Rachael Allen was pregnant when the couple bought Crosley, and their kids grew up there. One of their daughters even held her wedding ceremony out on the lanes.

But it’s an increasingly tough business, and keeping up with the changing market requires more investment than the Allens can necessarily pour into the business in their twilight years.

Customers are moving toward more upscale, “night-out” bowling experiences, the kind they might find at Big Al’s, or at Kingpins in Portland, Don Allen said. While bowling teams, families and birthday parties still patronize the old-school lanes like Crosley, the competition is getting tougher.

“We’re a traditional bowling center. It was built that way. So we looked at ways we needed to change to really stay relevant in our industry,” Don Allen said. “We just couldn’t put the financing together to really do what we needed to do.”

The Allens had another option to sell the business about a year ago. That sale, to Bowlmor AMF, would have seen the Allens sell the business but retain ownership of the property, and Crosley Lanes would have remained as a bowling alley under the new operator.

That fell through at the last minute, too. The experience left the Allens burned, they said, and after a few months to regroup, they decided that their best option was to sell the land altogether.

Now, that last resort is on hold for at least another year.

“We’re in a Catch 22. We can’t stay, because we can’t improve, but we can’t go, because we can’t sell,” Rachael Allen said.

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Columbian staff writer

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