Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

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Vancouver lacks tools to hit ambitious 2040 carbon goal

By , Columbian staff writer

The Vancouver City Council sat through hourslong workshops Monday to discuss the future of the city’s “leading edge” climate resiliency plan and housing developments.

City staff provided an update on Vancouver’s draft climate priority resolution with a dubious, yet, optimistic note on its ability to fulfill its aggressive goal.

The initiative, created in partnership with environmental company Cascadia Consulting Group, positions Vancouver on a path to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. However, it may not be possible as initially presented during previous workshops.

At this point, Vancouver does not have all of the tools and technology to hit carbon neutrality by 2040, said Rebecca Small, Vancouver’s senior policy analyst. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing.

“That is absolutely OK,” she said. “I think what I would point out is that, by having this ambitious goal, we have exceeded the goal that the best available science recommends as the interim target.”

The climate actions encompass six key areas: building and energy, transportation and land use, natural systems, waste, equity and green economy, and government operations.

By implementing strategies under these umbrella categories, Vancouver can achieve 84 percent of its target, Small said. The remaining percentage, or reaching net zero, can’t be accomplished — yet. The absence of advanced technology paired with the city’s limited power to enforce its substantial asks, such as completely transitioning to electric vehicles, prevent this from happening.

“I think when the NASA astronauts heard the charge to … land a person on the moon, they were all terrified. They did not have the tools,” Small said. “But by the end of the decade, sure enough, they got there.”

Ambitious target

The ambitious target to achieve net neutrality by 2040 outpaces big and small cities in the Pacific Northwest, making it an aspiring bastion for environmental resilience. In Seattle, the city aims to completely reduce carbon pollution by 2050; Denver is the only city in the region — perhaps the country — that has a plan that matches Vancouver’s.

To achieve this aggressive goal, 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions created by municipal operations would have to decrease by 2025, and the community would have to decrease its pollution by 80 percent by 2030.

Small said the city must make significant investments to implement the climate action plan, but it should not be assumed the costs will be constant through 2040.

“We would want everyone to consider the price tag of doing nothing,” she said. “And that is unknown.”

The complete draft climate action plan will be presented before the city council Aug. 8, months after it was originally slated to be finished. Staff will use the additional time to do thorough community outreach and further public engagement.

A public hearing for the plan is expected to occur Aug. 15, prior to the council’s decision to adopt it.

Future of housing

Bryan Snodgrass, Vancouver’s principal planner, and Becky Coutinho, associate planner, presented draft amendments to Vancouver’s Municipal Code 20 during the Monday meeting that would permit certain housing types. By doing so, the city would increase housing options and promote development in the city — a vital step in preparing for Vancouver’s population growth.

The Planning Commission’s recommendations included new R-17 single-family zoning, R-50 multifamily zoning and new cottage cluster standards. There were also updates to the reviewing process for aging-in-place features, micro-housing and Accessory Dwelling Unit standards, and setback requirements for apartments near residential homes.

State-mandated updates addressed reductions in minimum parking requirements for houses near transit, as well as required a density bonus for long-term affordable housing.

Council members spoke about how the city should prepare to increase housing density and also pondered how housing affordability would come to fruition in relation to market pricing.

“What we learned in our workshop with our experts is that all supply helps with affordability regardless of price,” council member Erik Paulsen said.

As it relates to increasing middle housing stock, there will need to be further analysis and public outreach to discuss allowing flexibility in single-family zones to develop these infill housing types, Snodgrass said.

The city council is scheduled to do a first reading on the code language June 13, with a public hearing soon after on June 27.

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