Despite protests from some local business organizations, Vancouver officials plan to keep their foot on the brakes – at least temporarily – on new plans to build mega-warehouses in the city.
Monday night marked the first public hearing of the city’s moratorium on large industrial facilities, such as retail distribution centers rising to keep pace with the popularity of online shopping. Vancouver City Council approved the pause on permitting Dec. 12.
Councilors tweaked the moratorium slightly and responded to concerns by saying they were trying to be deliberate. Councilor Erik Paulsen called the land use discussion a part of being in the “forever business.”
“Once that thing is there, it’s there for 50, 60, 70 years,” Paulsen said. “So, these decisions are not to be taken lightly.”
A recent surge in warehouse construction for mega retailers like Amazon spurred city staff to request the moratorium. Staff said they needed time to study how the buildings, and those industries, reconcile with the city’s environmental goals.
Applications have recently come in for seven different projects that propose building at least 275,000 square feet of industrial facilities, which would be nearly the size of Vancouver Mall. Two such sites propose building more than 600,000 square feet of industrial space.
Ultimately, councilors kept the city on a path to block such permits at least through June and possibly until the end of 2023.
A handful of speakers had business ties to Southwest Washington and contended the pause would drive away dollars and jobs. One staffer from a local real estate developer said it could strain the local supply chain.
Ron Arp, who leads a consortium of businesses called Identity Clark County, called moratoriums in general a “big, big damper” on economic growth. He said he feared it would set the county back more than one year.
“Development dollars will go elsewhere,” Arp said. “I think we’re going to see that here.”
City councilors largely agreed they didn’t intend to halt investment entirely. In the meeting, they narrowed the moratorium to only encompass certain projects that aim to develop 250,000 square feet or larger.
Councilors also plan to carve out some economic exemptions.
The council plans to approve language that would enable the Port of Vancouver to approve warehouses for bulk goods, like grain, steel and jet fuel. The council also agreed to add exemptions for trade-dependent industries like the semiconductor industry, which has multiple firms in the region.
Vancouver City Council will have two more hearings on the matter. One is slated for Feb. 27 and another for March 6.