Conservation District considered

Proposed design code change will make National Reserve more cohesive

The Vancouver City Council will hear the first reading of a proposed ordinance that standardizes design in the Vancouver National Historic Reserve on Jan. 30. The new section of the city’s design code will create a Historic Reserve Conservation District designed to protect the resources and historic character of the Reserve and which complies with National Parks Service and federal standards for the protected area.

Standardizing the area is a complicated venture considering the land affected by the proposed ordinance is owned and operated by four stakeholders – the City of Vancouver, the United States Army, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Parks Service.

The effort is concurrent with the Historic Reserve Trust’s initiative to make the Reserve more appealing to visitors by having it appear under single ownership throughout. The ordinance will help standardize such features as exterior lighting, landscaping, parking and HVAC screening, benches, signage and pedestrian connectivity, as well as define approved uses for the area. The result, according to city officials and consultants, would be a cohesive environment that is specific to eight historic periods established for the Reserve by the National Parks Service. The Conservation District would also include the adjacent waterfront, but federal and state highways would be exempted from design standards.

The ordinance would supercede the Central Park Plan, which was developed in the 1970s to protect the park. The plan includes regulations for outdated or unused amenities – for example a swimming pool and skating rink – and while it includes design standards and ecological zones for the entire Reserve, they are dated and have not been applied, said Jan Bader, manager of city-owned land at the Reserve.

Ron Mah is a consultant on the project with the JD White Co. Right now, he said at a recent workshop on the ordinance, the area is set up in cultural or “ethnic” zones. For example, “Alaskan” landscaping would go in one area, while “Asian” plantings might be placed somewhere else. The ordinance proposes that zones be set up using historic time periods and indigenous plantings as much
as possible.

“The standards are meant to provide more definitive direction for architects and landscape architects so they preserve historical perspective,”
said Mah.

Once the ordinance is passed, the National Parks Service will issue a letter of agreement to follow the design standards. This will settle such disagreements like the one over Fifth Street, which runs through the Historic Reserve.

“The Parks Service,” said Bader, “would like to reconfigure fifth street and make it more of a wagon road,” a less linear roadway with a decomposed granite surface. The city said they would consider such a design once the Reserve is more populated with tourists.

The proposed ordinance was presented to the city’s Design Review Committee, the Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission. The ordinance will have its first reading in front of the city council on Monday, Jan. 30, and second reading and public hearing on Feb. 6.

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