With Vancouver’s yearlong warehouse moratorium set to expire on Dec. 6, the Vancouver City Council will host a public hearing on the proposed changes to the warehouse code on Monday, Nov. 20.
The warehouse moratorium and all the discussed codes apply only to warehouses larger than 250,000 square feet — slightly larger than Esther Short Park.
Under the proposal, large warehouses would no longer be allowed in light-industrial zones and would only be allowed in heavy-industrial zones, which typically have larger lots in more isolated areas; effectively just the Port of Vancouver and the Columbia Business Center south of state Highway 14 at the site of the former Kaiser shipyard.
The large warehouses will also be subject to climate action measures, such as having roofs that could support solar panels, electric vehicle chargers and a prohibition on truck idling.
The Vancouver City Council implemented the moratorium in late 2022 after city staff noticed an increase in proposed and under-construction large warehouses, some up to 600,000 square feet. The moratorium was to allow city staff to examine the potential impacts of these developments and develop code recommendations.
City staff attribute the jump to a national increase in online retail shopping, which requires large amounts of limited industrial land but has a low employment-per-acre ratio and low-wage jobs. Additionally, city staff were concerned about the climate impacts and aesthetics of the large warehouses.
At the Nov. 13 city council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober worried that companies could dodge the proposed changes, especially the environmental ones, by applying for a 249,999-square-foot warehouse.
In response, Vancouver Community Development Director Chad Eiken said that the green building code currently being developed will fill in the gaps from the proposed changes to the warehouse code. The green building code is targeted for next summer.
“I think it was our intent to keep this fairly modest set of climate action standards, knowing that more detailed green building standards would be coming and apply to many other types of uses and sizes of buildings,” Eiken said.
Although the proposed changes are not a catch-all, the code changes solve the original problem of consumption of employment lands by non-labor-intensive uses, like large warehouses, Councilor Erik Paulsen said.
“I understand the frustration at the lack of breadth in terms of what this could have been versus what it turned out to be,” Paulsen said. “But I take comfort in the fact that we’re continuing to do the work that we’re describing and what we would have liked to have seen. And although six months is longer than we’d like, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty short time period in terms of the pace at which government works.”