The Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a set of code changes to large warehouses Monday, with the city’s yearlong warehouse moratorium expiring on Dec. 6.
The code changes apply to warehouses larger than 250,000 square feet — slightly larger than Esther Short Park.
Warehouses would only be allowed in heavy industrial zones, effectively limited to the Port of Vancouver and the Columbia Business Center south of Highway 14 and west of Marine Park. Both areas have larger lots in more isolated areas.
Large warehouses will no longer be allowed in light-industrial zones.
Large warehouses will 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 saw an increase in proposed and under-construction warehouses, some as large as 600,000 square feet — about the size of four Costcos.
The moratorium allowed city staff to examine the potential impacts of warehouse developments and to create code recommendations.
City staff attribute the jump to a national increase in online retail shopping, which requires large tracts of limited industrial land but offers low employment-per-acre ratios and low-wage jobs. Additionally, city staff were concerned about the climate impacts, aesthetics of large warehouses and the increased traffic.
“Aside from a single UPS facility, there is currently no warehouse or distribution facility in Clark County that specifically stores or re-packages individual goods for direct delivery to residential or business customers,” Vancouver Community Development Director Chad Eiken. “The vans you see in your neighborhood have Oregon license plates.”
Some councilors, such as Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober, worried companies could dodge proposed changes, especially those related to the environment, by applying for a 249,999-square-foot warehouse permit.
The code changes were designed to target large warehouses, with the more detailed and broad green building code currently being developed filling in the gaps for smaller warehouses left by the code changes, Eiken said.
Councilor Kim Harless supports the changes, although Harless wanted clusters of smaller warehouses that exceed 250,000 square feet to be subject to the code changes.
The amendments do “further the public interest,” Harless said. “Does it go far enough? Maybe not, but it does further it.”
Sean Philbrook, vice president of programs for Identity Clark County, a business leaders group, supports the changes to the warehouse code. (Disclosure: The Columbian’s publisher is a member of Identity Clark County’s board of directors.)
“These facilities are necessary to support our steadily rising share of goods purchased through e-commerce and as our standard of delivery becomes ever shorter,” Philbrook said at the council meeting. “However, we concur that these facilities are best suited for properties zoned for frequent commerce and served by truck routes.”
Heidi Cody with the environmental advocacy coalition Alliance for Community Engagement supported the climate provisions for large warehouses that were included in the code change but wishes it went further.
The alliance “believes city council has missed an opportunity to make a meaningful impact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving the warehouse code changes,” Cody said.