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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Vancouver warehouse moratorium eased but retained

Business groups argued for its cancellation; size limit raised

By , Columbian staff writer

Picture 3.34 million square feet — a whopping 58 football fields.

That’s the total floor space of eight proposed warehouses in Vancouver working their way through the application process, all submitted before December, when the city enacted a six-month moratorium on applications for any additional warehouses over 100,000 square feet.

“Such facilities consume vast amounts of limited industrial land yet provide very few jobs per acre and are typically low skill and low wage positions, and are not a high priority use in the Clark County Economic Development Plan,” a city staff report states.

At a Monday night hearing, developers and economic interest groups expressed their opposition to the moratorium, mainly citing the short- and long-term benefits of such large warehouses that are popping up nationwide.

But the individuals who asked the Vancouver City Council to end the moratorium largely overshadowed one key group: residents who could be affected by new, large-scale warehouses and distribution facilities in their neighborhoods.

“Warehouses can bring unwanted pollution, traffic congestion and noise. Neighborhoods are often already overburdened by these impacts,” said Heidi Cody of the Alliance for Community Engagement, who asked the council to better examine the environmental impacts of large warehouses.

By the end of the night, the city council voted to keep the moratorium in place for the rest of its six-month duration, with an amendment increasing the floor space threshold from 100,000 to 250,000 square feet.

In December, the Vancouver City Council enacted the moratorium to give city staff time to research the effects of such large facilities on the city’s economy, climate footprint, transportation sector and neighborhoods.

Chad Eiken, the city’s director of community development, has said city staff will request another six-month moratorium in May to finish studying the impacts of large warehouses.

The city’s plan is to use the first moratorium to gather information and reach out to key stakeholders, including the Port of Vancouver and affected neighborhoods. The second moratorium, if passed in May, would focus on developing specific facility codes and holding workshops.

Economic groups oppose ban

At the city’s hearing Monday night, developers and economic interest groups made it clear that they oppose the moratorium.

“We believe that such a moratorium would have detrimental effects on the local economy, supply chain and business operating in the city,” said Nick Massie, a member of Southwest Washington Contractors Association’s advocacy and advisory committee.

Massie emphasized the importance of the housing and logistics industry in Clark County. He said the moratorium could cause supply chain snags and raise prices for businesses and consumers.

He also said that large warehouses minimize environmental impacts by consolidating shipments and reducing the number of trips required to move goods through the supply chain.

“Warehouses can be designed and operated in an environmentally responsible manner, with features such as energy-efficient lighting and heating systems and the use of electric vehicles for deliveries,” Massie said.

Others pointed out that although the warehouse floor space might be much larger than retail development such as Walmart or Costco, the total land use is comparable when considering the massive parking lots that often surround such large retailers.

Jennifer Baker, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said that the moratorium casts too wide a net and should provide more leeway for industries that could use the space more effectively.

“I urge your consideration of whether the language in the moratorium is clear enough to prevent unintended consequences of halting development of sites that could house trade and sector business expansion,” Baker said.

Council votes to tap on the brakes

The council ultimately decided to keep the moratorium in place but amended the resolution to raise the floor space threshold. All but one of the current developments are still higher than this square footage.

The council voted 4-3 to increase the threshold based on Councilor Erik Paulsen’s suggestion that the moratorium’s target should be the largest warehouses, not midsized facilities that are already commonplace in Vancouver.

“I think the right thing to do is to tap on the brakes, but I don’t think the right thing to do is to slam on the brakes,” Paulsen said. “I am supportive of trying to the best ability possible, to thread the needle and to discourage with very precise policy tools the kinds of uses that we would rather not have in our community.”

Councilor Diana Perez said keeping the moratorium would allow city staff to better understand how large warehouses could impact environmental health disparities and other socioeconomic factors.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the amended resolution, with Bart Hansen and Sarah Fox voting no. The council will meet at the end of February to discuss possible caveats for certain sectors and hold a public hearing on March 6 on a potential exemption of the moratorium for the Port of Vancouver.

Note: The eight warehouse projects going through the approval project had been filed before the moratorium was put in place and are therefore not subject to its restrictions. An earlier version of this story contained an error about the status of those projects in light of the moratorium. 

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Columbian staff writer