Opinion: Heights residents want a task force to work with the city on Heights District Redevelopment Plan

Members of The Heights Coalition want to be a part of the task force

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com

In 2017, the city of Vancouver spent $5 million to purchase the crumbling 12-acre Tower Mall. Since then it has spent many thousands more on a two-plus-year planning process. The process – an excellent one – recently culminated in the Vancouver City Council’s approval of a larger 205-acre “Heights District Plan.”

Two of the members of The Heights Coalition are shown here; Kate Fernald (left) and Janice Ritter (right). Photo courtesy of Kate Fernald
Two of the members of The Heights Coalition are shown here; Kate Fernald (left) and Janice Ritter (right). Photo courtesy of Kate Fernald

We represent the “Heights District Neighborhood Coalition,” with members drawn from more than 18,350 residents of the eight neighborhoods surrounding the “Heights District Plan.”  (That’s 10 percent of Vancouver’s total population.)  For more than two years, hundreds of us have offered comments – both positive and critical – in writing and orally regarding the “Plan.”

Our community is at the heart of central Vancouver interspersed with long-established small businesses such as Duck Tales Kitchen, Vanco Golf Range and River Maiden.

The Plan’s vision – a good one – is to give new life to this and surrounding property, including our neighborhoods. Our dilemma is that we are currently “in limbo.”  While we all want the “Heights District Plan” to succeed, we need to “know the rules.”  Zoning “sets the rules” and we want expedited drafting of the new “HX Zoning” promised by the city during development of the “Heights District Plan.”  Only zoning will answer critical questions such as affordable housing, density, parking, traffic control and infrastructure. 

The city’s investment to buy Tower Mall can begin to be returned to the public treasury only when the “HX Zoning” is completed, and developers can pay cash money for affordable housing and other projects.  Until then, it is dead money. Until then, there is and likely will continue to be a de-facto moratorium on any development.

We asked members of the City Council to take both steps simultaneously, making the effective date of the Heights Plan concurrent with the adoption of the “HX Zone.” It is a mystery to us why the Council said “no” despite strong support from our members, Council Members Bart Hansen and Sarah Fox, and acknowledgment by City Planning staff that if the Council requested it, it could be done. 

We also request that the plan increase the ratio of new parking spaces to new housing units, from the current 1.0 to a more reasonable number such as 1.5.  With no likelihood of a new grocery store, those living in the Heights will need cars as well as public transit.

We are asking for compatibility with the unique features of our neighborhoods – improved landscaping, wildlife, and walkable streets. Six story buildings currently envisioned are not compatible. 

To date, the city has worked exclusively with city recognized neighborhood associations, and drawn from them a “Citizens Advisory Committee.”  But our member’s experience from participating in the “Advisory Committee” is that it is a “Tell Committee.” The city “tells us” what it’s doing.

We are tired of “the tell.”  To succeed we want a “Task Force” that will work with the city, property owners, and developers; a “Task Force” that will meld real advice with new zoning. And as the single and most consistently active group of neighbors, the Heights District Neighborhood Coalition must be a member of that “Task Force.”

We understand that the public process is exhausting: for staff, Council, and our members and area businesses. Two years is long enough for a “Plan.”

While issues are fresh, we urge the city to act quickly on zoning.  This is a policy matter.

Next fall (2021) there is a City Council election. Others have been watching Council decisions on related neighborhood issues, including removal of Columbia Street parking, siting of the Navigation Center, and Stronger Vancouver.

We are “the neighborhoods” and we love our city. Let’s see some love both ways.

“The Heights Coalition is composed of citizens from Southcliff, Dubois Park, Northcrest,  Evergreen Highlands, Father Blanchet, Northwood, Harney Heights, and Vancouver Heights. It is not affiliated with the city of Vancouver or existing Neighborhood Associations. 

Michelle Briede

Janice Ritter

Terry and Becky Phillips

Joe and Kate Fernald

Sandi McClary

David Schmoldt

Eliana Schmoldt

Liz and Jim Luce

Ann Donnelly

Sue Pupo

Christina Lombardi

Glenn Miller