Downtown Vancouver received more favorable attention last week, when The Seattle Times’ travel section declared “With new options for food, wine and walks on the Columbia, the Vancouver waterfront is buzzing.” The city’s reimagining of the Tower Mall area is underway, and two old quarries on the city’s east side are in various stages of redevelopment. With a new connection to downtown, Ridgefield is poised to redevelop its formerly industrial waterfront. Camas is working actively on developing the north shore of Lacamas Lake, and has the current Georgia-Pacific mill site on its to-do list. Washougal’s redeveloping its waterfront.
Next, it’s time to do something about the Highway 99 strip through Hazel Dell.
The strip, from Northeast 63rd Avenue to Northeast 134th Street, has long been an eyesore, a hodgepodge, a relic of 20th century car culture. Two types of buildings dominate Highway 99: Unappealing, and in many cases, dilapidated shacks perched close to the street, and big-box stores surrounded by moats of parking. There are more than 20 strip malls. Even if you want to visit businesses across the street, odds are you’ll drive and re-park.
The strip has its utility, at least for those who can drive. There are many retail businesses, large and small, including four large grocers. You can buy a car, get it fixed or buy parts and fix it yourself. Every fast food is available. And the area acts as a spine to pockets of affordable housing, ranging from residential motels to run-down trailer parks to (relatively) inexpensive apartments.
But it could be so much more. Suppose the strip was somehow safer and appealing for pedestrians and cyclists? What if a pedestrian/cyclist overpass near Northeast 88th Street connected the Hazel Dell strip to the C-Tran transit center? Only a few hundred yards apart, it’s a 10-minute drive from one to the other.
Suppose modern yet affordable live/work housing was built in conjunction with the forthcoming Highway 99 Vine high-capacity transit line?
Finally, there are no parks or public spaces, even though the road crosses at least two creeks.
There are obstacles, of course. A lot of parcels located north of Northeast 78th Street are owned or controlled by a single landlord who hasn’t demonstrated much enthusiasm for redevelopment. And the area lies entirely outside the city limits, within Clark County’s purview. County governments don’t have the same urban development tools at their disposal as do cities.
But something might be done. Unfortunately, there is no leadership. The Clark County Council seems focused on its own internal politics. And for several councilors, their vision of a functioning urban area seems to be limited to some sort of community where taxes are low, services (and citizens) are poor, and land use laws are nonexistent.
You don’t have to go far to see what the future holds for Highway 99 without planning and investment. Drive down any of east Portland’s urban arterials, such as 82nd Avenue, and marvel at the homelessness, boarded-up buildings and graffiti. Be sure to sit through every red light, because there aren’t many other reasons to stop.
There are many great things about Clark County and its cities, things that are so appealing that people come from miles around to enjoy them. But these amenities and attractions require planning and investment, neither of which is evident along Northeast Highway 99.
Shall we make this important part of the Vancouver urban area a better place, or will we let it decay?