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City of Vancouver refining Tower Mall Development plans within Heights District

Goal is to create walkable ‘20-minute community’

By Carlos Fuentes, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 11, 2023, 1:22pm

Vancouver is making adjustments to ensure that a central development will ultimately become a “20-minute community.”

Twenty-minute communities are neighborhoods in which residents can walk or bike to essential amenities and services — and typically, retail and recreational spaces — within 20 minutes.

The Vancouver City Council held a workshop Monday to discuss potential changes to the Tower Mall Development in central Vancouver to help make that possible. Most of the changes focus on improving visibility and access of the development.

“With any vision and plan, when you get to the rubber meets the road kind of discussions, there are always a little bit of refinements that are necessary to translate that vision into something you can actually build and optimize for the community,” City Manager Eric Holmes said at the beginning of the April 10 workshop.

Planning of the Tower Mall Development — a proposed 63-acre redevelopment within the larger 205-acre Heights District project — began in 2018 and will turn 1.58 million square feet into housing, commercial and office spaces, hotel and multipurpose developments.

When completed in 2029, the development will increase Vancouver’s available housing options by roughly 1,340 residential units, a 2020 report said.

The three biggest changes to the original plan are: relocating its Civic Plaza east to front Devine Road for increased accessibility and visibility, realigning and extending the multi-use trail surrounding the development, and relocating the neighborhood park for higher use and visibility.

“The slight changes to the master plan improve the plan, but the intent remains the same: to create a 20-minute, walkable neighborhood that is safe, accessible, connected, equitable and sustainable with a variety of community benefits,” Amy Zoltie, real estate project manager for the city, said at the workshop.

City staff worked with Portland urban design firm First Forty Feet to review the plan and suggest changes.

Zoltie said the changes will better promote accessible public spaces, mixed income housing, and multimodal travel opportunities throughout the development.

Crafting a neighborhood

The changes will centralize the new neighborhood park and expand the Great Loop trail to MacArthur Boulevard.

“The Loop is a three-quarter-mile pedestrian-oriented street and linear park that knits together shops, restaurants, residents, park spaces and workplaces as part of a neighborhood amenity,” the 2020 report said. “It will serve as the principal organizing element to unify the urban neighborhood and uses.”

The urban design firm also suggested moving the Civic Plaza eastward to Devine Road to increase activity and help businesses. This change, combined with code amendments that would restrict certain businesses from operating in the area, will bring shoppers and visitors to the area around the clock, Zoltie said.

“Narrowing the commercial uses surrounding the plaza and along Devine Road is a means to fully activate the Civic Plaza and create a main street identity for Devine Road,” Zoltie said. “It helps the plaza become more of a destination for the community to enjoy at all hours of the day and doesn’t become a dead unsafe zone after dark.”

The changes will not decrease the overall number of retailers permitted in the development, according to city reports.

Promoting nonmotorized access

The city will alter several code regulations to enact these changes, such as the Ground Floor Use Map and Ground Floor Use Regulations, along with “new standards to regulate off street parking access by limiting vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle conflicts and better promote nonmotorized access and use of the Grand Loop,” a city report said.

City staff worked with several groups, such as the Culture, Arts and Heritage Commission, the Transportation and Mobility Commission, and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, to develop the plan.

City council members mainly supported the changes, which will go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing May 9 before returning to the city council later this spring.

Council members expressed concerns about which businesses will be allowed and requested city staff to reach out to current business owners in the area before the public hearing.

“I’d be interested in hearing what feedback those property owners would have that are being impacted by this change, and whether they would be supportive or not,” Council0r Erik Paulsen said.

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Columbian staff writer