(Updated) The industrial land base of Mount Pleasant is apparently protected under Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), adopted with much fanfare in 2013, and intended to guide land use until 2040.
Thus it comes as a surprise that WestBank Projects Corp. (CEO Ian Gillespie) and Hootsuite (CEO Ryan Holmes) acquired an entire block on East 4th Avenue in a joint venture. The plans are to redevelop this block for a primarily office use and to combine Hootsuite’s operations under one roof.
For the record, we’ve reproduced part of the RGS land designation map of the area above. The contiguous light purple coloured part of the map designates this protected industrial area (Jonathan Rogers Park on West 8th Avenue is shown as grey or ‘general urban’). There is also a ‘mixed employment’ designation on the eastern part of the map (brick coloured area in Strathcona and lands around the railway corridor). This ‘mixed employment’ zone is likely a more compatible area for the uses envisioned by Hootsuite. However, the firm chose to acquire property in the Mount Pleasant Industrial zone instead. Did someone at City Hall give Gillespie and Holmes a commitment to get the area rezoned in their favour?
Additional details on the plans are available in a Vancouver Sun article by Jeff Lee: Vancouver looks at industrial land in the digital age – Hootsuite land purchase east of Cambie highlights need for zoning review (Dec 5, 2015).
The reported $40.5 million purchase price of the land could set a precedent for the escalating property prices in the area. True industrial land uses might further be diminished in Mount Pleasant due to speculation based on what appears to be the City’s lack of discipline in regulating land use.
Earlier in the week, Hootsuite made headlines when the firm announced that is was laying off 20 employees: Hootsuite reorganization results in 20 layoffs in Vancouver (Georgia Straight, Charlie Smith, Dec 1, 2015).
This industrial land area does host firms like Daniel le Chocolat Belge (manufacturing), as well as parts distributors (Napa & Reliable Parts), bakeries and breweries. Mixed use lots with part industrial and part office uses are allowed under current zoning. Apart from Hootsuite, there are a number of tech companies that are in the area. These include several visual effects production firms (Method Studios, Double Negative, Image Engine to name a few) and Omni Television. The offices for Business in Vancouver are in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Zone. There are also a number of art studios (notably Beaumont). A recycling depot is located at Ontario and 7th Avenue.
Will the eclectic mixture of uses in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Zone survive if a precedent is set by an upzoning of the Hootsuite and WestBank site? Or will many industrial uses and businesses be displaced in the future and replaced with high-end office space?
Back story on the RGS
Vancouver’s land use commitments to the Metro Vancouver region were formalized in the Regional Growth Strategy in 2013. City Council adopted the “Regional Context Statement,” Vancouver’s component of the RGS, at a public hearing the evening of June 11, 2013. Things were rather weird at the time, with a virtual media blackout (or at least a perfect media blind spot). Top civic reporters ran the other way when CityHallWatch tried to get their interest in covering the story. Through our efforts several people made the effort to turn up and speak at the public hearing, but in another weird occurrence, there was a mysterious “equipment malfunction” that night. The live web video didn’t work, so no one outside the room was able to follow the proceedings. Not only that, the City kept no video record of the meeting, due to the malfunction (though the audio is there).
Are all these seemingly unconnected observations indications of regulatory capture of City Hall? People should watch carefully to see how strongly City Council fights against zoning changes to this Wesbank/Hootsuite block. Will the Council majority stand on principle and defend the precious industrial land it designated and protected through the RGS legislation in 2013? Watch the narrative.