In 2017 the City of Vancouver purchased the crumbling 12-acre “Tower Mall” for $5 million and launched a two-year “Heights District Plan” process to decide what to do with it. The “it” includes our five neighborhoods, local businesses, schools and existing undeveloped properties.
The Vancouver City Council approved the “Plan” on Aug. 17. The “Plan” – actually a “Vision” – could significantly change our neighborhoods; perhaps for the better, perhaps not. There is no way to know until the Council approves the promised “HX” zoning – “Heights Unknown and To Be Determined.” And therein lies the rub, because the Council did not request that zoning begin, and City management does not appear to be in a hurry to do so.
As an environmental attorney, former Clark County Planning commissioner and chair of the state’s Energy Siting Council, I know that no matter how well conceived the Planner’s “vision,” it is little more than pretty pictures and an EIS until developers know what is allowed.
That is why our “Heights Coalition” and council members Bart Hansen and Sarah Fox asked that the “Plan’s” effective date be concurrent with approval of the HX Zone. Fox, it should be noted, is the City of Camas’s “principal planner.” This is her area of expertise.
And even though the Planning Department said “concurrent adoption” would work, the Council majority said “no.” So, the “Plan” – or “the Vision” – is adopted but without City management initiating the Zoning process that will provide the certainty we need.
We are stunned that the Council majority said “no.” There was no downside. And many benefits to saying “yes.” First and foremost, everyone deserves “certainty.” Bankers won’t lend and developers won’t develop until the “rules” are known. The same is true for existing property owners. Should we sell? Should we stay? A home for most is their biggest investment. Will streets be overrun with traffic from apartments built without adequate parking?
We believe the Council was confused about “concurrency” and strongly encourage revisiting it. “Concurrency” is not complicated. The Heights Plan is still completed and on the books. The EIS is also final. The only difference – a critical one – is that the Plan’s “effective date” – when we can make life changing decisions based upon it – would be “concurrent” (at the same time) as Council final adoption of zoning, which all agree is needed. Until then, we must live with a known unknown.
What we ask is simple and straight forward. It requires City management to tell us what will be allowed in the “HX Zone.” Let the Planning Commission process begin, and this time have a “Citizens Advisor Committee” that actually offers advise. Only when that process is completed by the Council approving the zoning, will the Heights Plan will be in full force and effect.
Until then, a development moratorium currently exists and will hopefully be extended. And hopefully issues like this, removal of Columbia Street parking and the Navigation Center can be more fully vetted during next year’s Council elections.
This OpEd was submitted by Jim Luce, a member of the “Heights Neighborhood Coalition.” Luce is an environmental attorney and former member of the Clark County Planning Commission. His views represent those of the “Heights Coalition.”