Stack industry, panelists say

New thinking is needed to make better use of vanishing industrial land that’s rapidly turning into condos and office towers, according to speakers at a Metro Vancouver forum on regional growth.

And stacking other uses on top of industrial buildings is one suggested solution.

“There’s an awful lot of people looking in that direction,” said Jeff Rank, of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

Double-level warehouses are already springing up in parts of Surrey, he told the audience at the April 23 forum.

Offices and some commercial uses could work particularly well on top of industrial buildings, said Greater Vancouver Gateway Council managing director Bob Wilds.

He said it holds out the potential to densify industrial areas, pack many more jobs into the same footprint and make transit for employees more viable. Even building condos on top of warehouses on industrial land is technically possible.

But according to former Vancouver planner Anne McAfee it’s not practical – even if the uses are compatible and there’s no noxious fumes wafting up from below.

The problem, she said, is the instant industrial buildings are approved for residential floors above, the land value skyrockets and industrial users can no longer afford to be there.

“One has to be very careful about mixing residential uses with industrial,” she said.

How to conserve and maximize the use of what little industrial land is left has become a focus for Metro Vancouver as it redraws its regional growth strategy.

Many old sawmill and port-related sites along the region’s waterfront have already been turned into condos.

Wilds said the rapid depletion of vacant industrial lands has sent land costs soaring and priced out many potential users, sending them fleeing up the Fraser Valley.

But as warehouses and shipping centres shift east there are serious implications region-wide. More pollution and congestion results when trucks based further east must travel farther to bring goods to the dense Metro core and workers having to travel farther from where they live to jobs at those industrial sites.

A new Industrial Land Reserve that would tighten the conversion of existing industrial sites to other uses is expected to be one of the new planks of a regional growth strategy being finalized by Metro Vancouver.

Wilds backs the idea, but Rank argues businesses need flexibility.

“A prescriptive cast-in-stone land reserve should not form part of the vision,” he said.

Today’s Coal Harbour, Yaletown and False Creek neighbourhoods would not exist today if an industrial land reserve had been slapped in place 30 years ago, Rank said.

Downtown Surrey BIA executive director Lesley Tannen argued cities like Surrey that are expected to preserve industrial and agricultural land should be compensated somehow by those like Vancouver, that have converted virtually all their low-value lands and enjoy the lucrative gains in tax revenue.

But Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt – who has hammered the point repeatedly at Metro Vancouver meetings – doesn’t hold out up much hope.

“We know Vancouver is not going to share,” he said.

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