Vancouver City Council members pledge to keep shopping for a downtown grocery store

The promise comes as the city changes course on Block 10 development

VANCOUVER — Before officially voting to end negotiations with Gramor Development in pursuit of a grocery store for Block 10, Vancouver City Council members spent time discussing the obvious need for an oasis in the food desert that is downtown Vancouver.

At the request of Councilor Laurie Lebowsky, a resolution to open discussions with Holland Partners for an 11-story office building at Block 10 was pulled from the consent agenda for discussion. Her purpose, Lebowsky said, was to talk about potential ways the city could incentivize healthy grocers to move into the city. Those ideas could include waving up-front costs, such as permitting fees, impact fees, or development charges.

“If this program is effective in the city center, we may want to consider doing something similar in other parts of the city,” said Lebowsky.

Block 10 in downtown Vancouver will soon be home to a new 11-story office building. Photo by Chris Brown

Such a move would be similar to the one Ridgefield adopted to bring Rosauers grocery into that city.

“But it’s a very broad ordinance so if we were to do something similar in Vancouver we’d really want to narrow the scope so it’s not applicable to everything,” said Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken, adding that waving all of those fees could amount to “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Eiken said there is another tool the city could potentially wield.

“I think one are where we might do some research is on parking. What we’ve heard is that grocery stores need a lot of parking and typically the customers that are going to grocery stores don’t want to pay for parking,” he told the council. “So that was one thing that was raised in the discussions. Perhaps there may be some use of public funds to pay for some parking somehow.”

The conversation comes as the council voted to end a year-long process with Gramor trying to land a grocer at the long-vacant Block 10. The decision came after conversations with multiple brick-and-mortar grocers failed to land a tenant. Fear over the future of the business in the wake of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, in addition to a lack of housing downtown and difficulty finding parking, were cited as the main reasons for a lack of suitors.

Instead, the city will enter negotiations with Holland Partner Group to build a new 11-story office building that will act as the property developer’s new headquarters. Holland also has plans for a seven-story development to include 116 units of workforce housing.

“I remain committed to finding a grocery store option that will address the food desert in downtown Vancouver,” said Councilor Erik Paulsen. “And by no means is my support for moving forward with this development an indication of a lessening of that commitment.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bart Hansen said it’s his view that focusing on growing the number of residential units downtown will be the key to eventually finding a grocer willing to move into the city.

“I think that if you continue to develop and get that density up there you’re going to get what you’re looking for,” said Hansen. “I recently had a back and forth with some folks online about how we’re not doing enough for affordable housing and this is just one more way we’re helping out developers. You know … prior to 2010 we had zero units going in for affordable housing, and from 2010 to 2017 we had 496 units go in. So we went from ‘we’re doing nothing’ to ‘we’re not doing enough.’ That’s success.”

Outgoing Councilor Bill Turlay said it’s his opinion the council doesn’t need to make special exceptions to get a grocer to come downtown, and that in a few years the food desert problem may be solved by easy and affordable food delivery services.

“I think the marketplace will find its own niche and provide food to the residents of downtown Vancouver,” said Turlay.

Paulsen, though, countered that having healthy food options within walking distance can add to the affordability of housing in a downtown area.

“And so for us to think in those terms and be artful in how we use the tools at our disposal to attract a grocery amenity to the downtown area and possibly other similar deserts,” said Paulsen, “I think, could be a good an innovative use of some of the tools we wouldn’t traditionally use in that way.”

On the parking situation, Councilor Ty Stober said it’s his understanding that many Whole Foods locations within cities provide validated parking, though he didn’t know if those were local government subsidies or an investment paid for by Amazon.

Eiken said staff would examine what options might be available to help lure a grocer into downtown, as well as continuing to look for potential properties that could suit them, and return to council at a later date with a recommendation.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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