As the nationwide emergence of mega warehouses becomes more prevalent, Vancouver is establishing safeguards to prevent such developments from taking root in the city.
Bryan Snodgrass, Vancouver’s long-range principal planner, proposed Monday that the city council approve a six-month emergency moratorium on the expansion or development of warehouses and distribution facilities totaling more than 100,000 square feet.
Staff would use the pause to assess and address potential impacts from these developments and develop code recommendations. Snodgrass projected that the process may require another six-month moratorium.
The motion passed, with two council members opposing the request. Council member Eric Paulsen was absent.
There will be a second reading followed by a public hearing no later than Feb. 6, or within 60 days of the moratorium’s adoption. Staff will present a work plan describing the scope of its study, public outreach and other procedural components.
Reason for action, pushback
In Vancouver, there has been a recent surge in permit applications for large warehouses and distribution facilities, an unwavering trend steadied by the popularity of e-commerce. It joins other municipalities in the country, many from California, attempting to regulate warehouse distribution centers to curb labor and environmental impacts.
Snodgrass said there are eight proposed projects locally, which would occupy a total of 205 acres. Currently, warehouse and distribution center developments are permitted with no size limits in Vancouver’s light and heavy industrial zones.
These facilities require large amounts of land yet have a low employment-per-acre ratio, and jobs generated from these facilities tend to be low skill, Snodgrass said. All are qualities inconsistent with regional economic plans.
Large warehouse and distribution facilities may also hinder the city’s climate goals, he added, as they could introduce more delivery truck traffic and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions. Snodgrass said the scale of the buildings and their long-term use could also have harmful impacts.
However, council members Sarah Fox and Bart Hansen, both of whom voted against the moratorium, questioned the environmental factor in staff’s rationale.
“From an environmental standpoint, you would move a warehouse closer to its endpoints,” Hansen said. “If you’re not going to do that, then your warehouses are going to be further away from the endpoints, and they’re going to have to be trucked in here anyway.”
Fox said there are growth opportunities for warehouse development in Vancouver’s industrial zones, which otherwise remain unused. She said these facilities would also be aided by future infrastructure projects, such as Vancouver’s 32nd Avenue extension near the Port of Vancouver.
“Why would you be concerned about that growth?” she asked.
Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober argued that Vancouver’s current positioning must align with where it wants to be in the future, which he envisions as a hub for manufacturing and not distribution. Land use must be used strategically to match this vision, he said.
Hansen still had reservations.
“We’ve been waiting for this on the council — mayor pro tem, I’m not picking on you — but like a (semiconductor) manufacturer or something of that nature to come in,” he said. “Yet nothing has come in to this point. Here we are still waiting while we have the potential of having jobs in our community.”