Monday, September 21, 2015

Metro Vancouver's industrial land base is shrinking as demand rises

Just like the Agricultural Land Reserve which is meant to protect farmland from urban development, some organizations such as Metro Vancouver and Port Metro Vancouver have been calling for the creation of an Industrial Land Reserve.

Because Metro Vancouver is a popular place for people to live and businesses to grow, two things have happened. Former industrial sites have been converted to residential and office spaces because land is so valuable. At the same time, the remaining, shrinking industrial land base has been steadily filling up.

In fact, Metro Vancouver predicts that somewhere after 2024 all the industrially zoned land in the region will be developed.

Industrial land demand and supply, based on total industrial land capacity in 2010. Select table to enlarge.

One of the important things for industrial land users is proximity to major transportation infrastructure such as port facilities, railways, and highways.

To protect industrial land, Metro Vancouver introduced two regional land use designations as part of its Regional Growth Strategy. Industrial area are to be used for “heavy and light industrial activities, and appropriate accessory uses. Limited commercial uses that support industrial activities are appropriate. Residential uses are not intended.”

As Metro Vancouver is a federation of municipalities, during the creation of the Regional Growth Strategy, many municipalities did not like the restrictive nature of the regional Industrial land designation. In response, Metro Vancouver created a “Mixed Employment” designation. This designation allows for all land uses, but residential uses. Industrial factories, office parks, and big-box malls are permitted in “Mixed Employment” areas.

The following map shows the various regional zones.

Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy land use map. Select map to enlarge.

In 2010, Metro Vancouver completed an Industrial Land Inventory.

2010 Industrial Land Inventory. Select map to enlarge.

As you can see in the proceeding map, pretty much all of the regionally designated Industrial land is developed. The largest vacant areas that could be used for industrial uses are in Surrey, but these areas are regionally designated as the weaker “Mixed Employment” use.

With the shortage of industrial land in the region, municipalities such as Surrey need to have a hard look at whether they want to allow office parks and malls in “Mixed Employment” areas. The problem is that industrial land users in our region typically take up a lot of space, and don’t provide the same intensity of jobs or property taxes as other land users.

As industrial land fills up, there will be pressure to convert agricultural land to industrial land. This already happened within the Tsawwassen First Nations.

Does an Industrial Land Reserve make sense? This discussion will likely continue for many years to come. In the meantime, Metro Vancouver is working on updating its Industrial Land Inventory from 2010.

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