With a dwindling supply of industrial land and spiking tax rates, Port Moody has endorsed a new strategy to reshape its approach to industrial zoning.
Council endorsed an Industrial Land Strategy Tuesday night, following a presentation by Vann Struth Consulting Group, which provided research as well as recommendations on how the city should move forward.
“The goal (is to) achieve certain values like retaining and expanding high-quality job opportunities in the community,” said Jamie Vann Struth. “Making sure there’s still a place for some of those vital industrial services and businesses that need industrial land to operate.”
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Expanding industrial and light industrial land uses would help the city cut down on high residential taxes, as the zoning pays significantly more taxes into municipal coffers.
Port Moody is currently looking to whittle down a proposed residential tax increase of over 11 percent in 2023.
The industrial strategy builds on Metro Vancouver’s own regional plan. The entire region is facing “extreme shortages” of industrial lands, and fierce competition for the land by residential and commercial uses, according to Vann Struth.
As a result, very high land and lease values are hampering the ability of industrial businesses to operate.
Metro Vancouver’s strategy has several broad themes, such as increasing density and mixing industrial zoning types with commercial and even residential uses.
Most relevant for Port Moody, Vann Struth said, is “intensifying and optimizing” industrial zoned land, due to the limited supply.
Currently Port Moody has 1.355 million square feet of floor space on industrial zoned parcels – excluding the city’s north shore and obsolete buildings – hosting an estimated 1,400 jobs.
Between 60 and 70 percent of this space is being used by core or light industrial activities, with the remaining being used for office space or retail services.
“The goal is to get the most value out of that land that we can,” he said, noting possibilities now exist due to the changing nature of production.
Historically, industrial lands would need more space to create physical products, but that work is increasingly being done by computer.
Mixing industrial operations into more urban areas is seen as the way forward, as it allows office and manufacturing spaces to mix.
“The tech sector, obviously, has been a major driver of industrial land, especially those tech operations that have a need for some sort of laboratory or industrial space within their operations,” Vann Struth said.
There has been little renewal of industrial buildings in Port Moody, with the average building age being 44-years old.
The vacancy rate for industrial land sits at approximately 2 percent. Only a few larger parcels remain, some of which are included in large development projects, such as the Flavelle Mill site.
“In terms of pure industrial, Port Moody’s got relatively limited scope for growth. There’s only so many jobs you can pack into a pure industrial operation, Vann Struth said. “That’s where the benefit (of the urban industrial strategy) happens.”
Port Moody is still seen as a very desirable location within the region due to its natural amenities, and growing commercial sectors, and proximity to rapid transit, according to the report.
However, it still suffers competitive disadvantages because of limited and high cost space, as well as challenges with railway and highway access for the movement of goods.
The development community still finds Port Moody a challenging environment to work in, according to the report. They advocate for mixed uses and higher density to make projects more economically feasible.
The city will unlikely be able to compete with cities like Port Coquitlam, Burnaby, Surrey, and Chilliwack in terms of core industrial opportunities, but could serve as a secondary niche market for light industrial uses, such as those seen in Vancouver, according to the consultant’s report.
Potential urban industrial areas
The strategy proposes zoning flexibility for numerous corridors around the city, including Clarke Street, Murray Street, Moray Street, and the Moody Centre Transit Oriented Development (TOD) area.
Vann Struth said Murray Street and the Moody TOD would be particularly attractive.
Clarke Street would retain its industrial uses, but allow for a higher share of floorspace for commercial use.
Murray Street, along Brewers Row (west of the Moody Yards development), is proposed as an urban industrial area with no residential, while the Murray Street East would allow some residential use.
Moray Street is seen as having potential for urban industrial mixed with residential and increased density.
Esplanade Street, adjacent to Rocky Point Park, is envisioned for an arts and entertainment sector.
The Moody Centre Transit Oriented Development area is also seen as having potential for high-density mixed use zoning allowing for light industrial uses.
The strategy stresses the importance of ensuring the city’s approval process be clear and supportive in terms of attracting business investment to these potential industrial areas.
Policies and regulations and the Official Community Plan (OCP), zoning, and zoning bylaws would need to be reviewed for further opportunities to transition light industrial areas.
The strategy should be incorporated into the city’s existing priorities, such as the economic development masterplan, according to the report.
Another issue raised during stakeholder discussions was the tax differential between commercial and light industrial, with the latter being nearly twice as high. These would need to be made more competitive.
Leveraging investment opportunities from major industrial site owners, including those on the Port Moody’s north shore, was also recommended as part of the strategy
The city should also be pursuing long-term solutions for artist studio space currently on industrial lands.
Endorsing the strategy was approved by a vote of five-to-one, with Coun. Callan Morrison opposed, and Mayor Meghan Lahti not present.
Morrison said he was grateful for the amount of detail showing how industrial land uses have evolved over time to support multi-storey developments to more efficiently used land.
However, he took issue with a line in the report that stated no residential uses would be included west of the Port Moody Yards development on Murray Street.
Morrison said there are possibilities for development there, citing the Moody Centre TOD expansion and the possibility of a future overpass.
Bruce Anderson of Vann Struth Consultancy Group said the residential limit referred to the area where the craft breweries were located, and that residential use was much better suited for the TOD area.
Morrison was also concerned about whether or not the strategy would be incorporated into the ongoing update to the city’s OCP.
City staff said that the strategy’s information would be used in forming the OCP, but it would not necessarily require the recommendations to be adopted.
“I’m happy to hear that,” Morrison said, suggesting the strategy might not be in compliance with council’s future plan.
Morrison said, while mixing industrial uses into urban areas might allow a greater range of uses, it could kill the light industrial space the city already has.
“How do we protect light industrial from converting to six-storey buildings with retail uses on the ground floor, no different than along St. John Street, or the developments farther east on Murray Street?” he said. “It’s basically a commercial-industrial zoning is what we’re creating.”
Coun. Kyla Knowles said she agreed that the city’s approval processes, policies and regulations need to be improved to support potential investors. “Everyone here in our community knows very well that we need to expand our industrial tax base,” she said.
Knowles questioned why Port Moody’s north shore was not included in the strategy, stating there are numerous potential industrial opportunities there.
Staff and the Vann Struth consultants said the north shore was not a focus of the strategy, which concentrated on the city’s core industrial lands.
The north shore sites are heavy industrial lands, and subject to control and influence of provincial and federal governments and local Indigenous nations, in terms of regulatory and jurisdictional approvals.
Coun. Diana Dilworth and Coun. Amy Lubik agreed with Knowles about the importance of Port Moody’s north shore,
Dilworth noted the area has an underutilized waterfront with access to rail and deep sea berthage.
“We may look to partnering with the province where opportunities avail to develop a specific strategy or set some targets for particularly the Ioco lands,” Dilworth said.
Coun. Haven Lurbiecki stated that residential development will not solve the city’s tax rate problems, and the only way forward is to diversify by growing business and industry sectors.
However, that won’t happen unless the council follows this strategy, Lurbiecki said. If the city fails to follow the roadmap, it’s destined to become a “high-rise bedroom community,” she said.
Lurbiecki said that the city has an “abysmal” jobs-to-population ratio in comparison to the region, and the problem will continue to get worse without a committed approach to these roadmaps,
“We need to be looking to add thousands of jobs over the coming years as we grow now to over 50,000 people, much less 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 people –pending what this council approves by the end of this term,” Lurbiecki said.
Metro Vancouver has experienced a huge growth in the tech sector, which has generated tremendous value, according to the strategy; Lurbiecki said that focusing on the sector would be “Win-win.”
She was critical of the council’s decision to remove the Moody Innovation Centre from the city’s list of business items on March 14, insinuating it was cut due to a personal vendetta against a former council member.
“It aligns perfectly with what is outlined in this industrial land strategy,” Lurbiecki said. “We need to find a way to bring this concept back.”
Coun. Samantha Agtarap said she supports retaining the city’s industrial lands, and incorporating mixed uses where complementary.
She disagreed with Lurbiecki’s focus on the technology sector, stating they shouldn’t be “chasing” specific industries, but supportive of all businesses in the city.
“The implication that only high tech jobs are well paying jobs is rather insulting,” Agtarap said. “I think it is important that we incorporate this strategy into any of our economic development activities, but we also need to consider our residential uses.”
Agtarap added that business-only sectors in some communities struggled during the pandemic, and that creating complete communities should be the focus.