A halt on all new development along parts of Evergreen and Grand boulevards will be lifted in an attempt to ease restrictions on small business owners feeling the crush of the current recession, the Vancouver City Council has decided.
The six-month moratorium, first enacted in November, was going to be extended for another six months. It will now expire May 4.
“Obviously things have changed pretty significantly since then, in terms of the COVID-19 crisis and its impacts on the economy,” Rebecca Kennedy, Vancouver’s long range planning manager, told the city council at its remote meeting Monday.
She added that she’d heard feedback from business owners along the corridor since the viral outbreak began, and the statewide stay-at-home order has forced most to cut back or close.
“Given the tremendous amount of stress and pressure that people are under — trying to adapt and evolve and respond to the current situation — there was a clear articulation that the moratorium may not work anymore for some people and would potentially limit their flexibility in responding in the way that’s most appropriate for them and their individual circumstances,” Kennedy said.
The moratorium was adopted in an attempt to grant city leaders some control over the future of the corridor: along Evergreen Boulevard from V Street to Grove Street, and along Grand from Evergreen to East Mill Plain Boulevard.
The eventual goal is to turn the area into a vibrant “20-minute neighborhood,” where residents can commute to work, visit parks, go to restaurants and run errands without ever having to walk longer than 20 minutes.
The city council unanimously agreed to let the freeze on new development expire. In addition to granting business owners more flexibility, they decided it was unlikely that the long-range planning work necessary to make the moratorium worth it could be accomplished effectively in the coming months.
The city remains in emergency-response mode, adapting to the coronavirus outbreak. Increasing walkability is not high on the current list of priorities.
“I would not imagine it moving forward very productively in the next six months. There’s a promise we make to a community when we enact a moratorium and say, ‘This work will be done in this time frame,’” Councilor Sarah Fox said.
The Evergreen-Grand location was one of a few roadways identified by the city’s Commercial Corridors Strategy — other stretches eyed for redevelopment include Mill Plain Boulevard from East Reserve Street to Southeast 192nd Avenue, Fourth Plain Boulevard from Interstate 5 to Northeast 172nd Avenue, and the St. Johns/St. James Couplet from Burnt Bridge Creek to Northeast 68th Street.
The initial moratorium applied only to the stretches of Evergreen and Grand boulevards.
Bowling alley to remodel
Rachel and Don Allen, owners of Allen’s Crosley Lanes bowling alley, were among those to provide feedback to Kennedy and the city’s planning department. They said they agreed with the decision to let the development freeze lapse.
The bowling alley is located within the impacted area, at 2400 E. Evergreen Blvd.
“There are too many property owners that are really stuck, between the COVID pandemic and the moratorium. It’s wrong to not be able to have all your options available as a property owner, and we’re very grateful to the city for recognizing that,” Don Allen said.
The Allens are no strangers to being stuck. They spoke to The Columbian about the initial development freeze back in December.
They’d been a week away from closing a sale on the bowling alley when the city announced the moratorium. It sank the sale; as Rachel Allen said at the time, “There isn’t a developer in their right mind who would pay that much money for this big a property and not know what they can do with it.”
The failed sale derailed the couple’s retirement plan. They have owned and operated the alley since 1987.
Now, Don Allen said, the moratorium forced them to reassess their options. Instead of selling, the Allens decided to reinvest in their business, and they have secured a $1.3 million loan to revamp the facility — new pinsetters, a new scoring system and a new VIP lane section.
They secured the loan on March 5. Ten days later, they had to close because of the coronavirus. Timing, Don Allen said, has not been on their side as of late.
After hearing news of the required closure, the couple shared a few “words that aren’t printable, in regards to our luck lately,” he added with a laugh.
“But the moratorium kind of forced us to reevaluate what we wanted, or what we were going to be able to do,” Don Allen said. “I guess if anything good comes out of the moratorium for us, it’s that it made us try again.”