Negotiations over a waterfront development east of the Interstate 5 Bridge have turned into a victory for the Vancouver City Council. In the process, local residents and the developer of the site also have benefited.
City councilors last week approved an agreement for the Renaissance Boardwalk development at the site inhabited by Who Song & Larry’s restaurant, a closed Joe’s Crab Shack and a dilapidated pier. Kirkland Development will build luxury housing, retail space and a parking complex.
Equally important, the project will replace a pier that has been closed to the public since 2007, connecting the Waterfront Renaissance Trail along the Columbia River. The trail currently diverts from the river to avoid the rundown pier, belying the “waterfront” portion of its name.
That simple explanation of the project underplays the political complexities that have gone into it.
Last month, council members put the plan on hold because of concerns about sustainability requirements. Now, Kirkland Development has agreed to meet Gold-certified energy standards under the LEED rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
Previously, the development was slated to meet Silver standards. That level adhered to city mandates and is the standard for The Waterfront Vancouver development to the west of the I-5 Bridge. The Columbian wrote editorially at the time that requiring the higher standard “would amount to changing the rules in the middle of the game” and would “foster mistrust of the city council.”
But in striking the agreement for better sustainability, councilors have altered the dynamics of development in the city.
Sustainability is essential for creating the cities of the future. The specter of climate change cannot be ignored, and reducing carbon emissions meets the very definition of leadership.
A study this year by Oberlin College looked at more than 4,000 office buildings in the United States and found that Gold-certified offices reduced on-site energy use by 12 percent compared with non-certified buildings. “Only LEED offices certified at the Gold level demonstrated statistically significant savings in source energy and greenhouse gas emissions,” the report says.
So, there are valid reasons for demanding the more stringent standard. And if the developer agrees to those standards, then everybody wins.
Several lessons will emanate from the process. One is that Vancouver leaders must move forward on a climate action plan that better defines expectations for construction. Current mandates require that Silver-certified sustainability standards must be met; a new action plan should dictate Gold-certified standards.
Another lesson is that claims of higher standards being untenable for developers often are bogus. Kirkland officials determined that the project still penciled out despite slightly higher costs and agreed to pursue it. In the process, they also demonstrated leadership that should inform other developers about how best to work with city leaders. In exchange, Kirkland will receive a break on property taxes for eight years, a caveat that already was included in the proposal.
After all of that, the biggest winners will be the people of Vancouver. A prominent part of the city will be redeveloped, and the waterfront trail will reach its potential. As The Columbian wrote editorially in March: “Embracing and celebrating our connection to the Great River of the West with expansive amenities is sure to be envied by other communities.”