Reprinted from The Columbian article Published: February 22, 2016
By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter
The high-rise buildings in a future $1.3 billion commercial and residential project on downtown Vancouver’s waterfront won’t rise as high as planned.
Developers of the project, called The Waterfront Vancouver, are lowering some of the building sizes due to Federal Aviation Administration height restrictions and economic factors, said Barry Cain, president of Gramor Development of Tualatin, Ore.
“Some of the blocks, it didn’t matter because we weren’t going to go that high, anyhow,” Cain said Friday. “In most cases, it’s taking a couple floors off of a pretty tall building already. … Most people won’t notice a difference.”
The height restrictions are due to the proximity of Pearson Field, the small, single-runway airport owned by the city of Vancouver that lies 1 mile east of the 32-acre waterfront project site along the Columbia River.
The FAA notified Gramor late last year of its decision, which accompanied the project’s renewed FAA permit. The ruling affects half the buildings in the 21-block development and reverses the FAA’s previous approval of the Waterfront Vancouver’s master plan in 2009. At that time, the approved building heights were taller because the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing would have been higher than the existing Interstate 5 bridge, requiring planes to have a higher approach flying into Pearson, Cain said.
Cain’s firm has asked the FAA to look at it again and take into consideration the heights of surrounding buildings, he said. If the FAA won’t relent, his firm will appeal the decision to the FAA, said Cain, who is fine with some of the height restrictions but not others. The tallest building was expected to be 20 to 22 stories tall. Cain doesn’t expect the ruling to delay the project.
One of the buildings slated for construction later this year, a 14-story apartment tower, is being redesigned into a six-story building, Cain said. However, that’s partly due to economic reasons because the type of construction for the taller version turned out not to make sense as previously envisioned, he said.
Chad Eiken, the city of Vancouver’s community and economic development director, called the FAA’s move a “disappointment.”
“Gramor did everything they were supposed to do. They checked with FAA and got what they thought was a valid approval,” Eiken said Thursday.
The 2009 master plan had shown a steady slope of building heights that rose in elevation toward the west. Under the new ruling, the slope starts at an angle, levels off and then slopes upward again toward the west, Eiken said. The flat area is above part of the 21-block project site, he said.
The good news, Eiken said, is that even with shorter buildings, the development still will meet the minimum density required by the city council. Density refers to the number of floors per block and the massing of buildings on each block. The council set a minimum density to ensure the project is “urban scale” and gets a good return on the tax dollars used to build streets and utilities in the development, Eiken said.
“Council didn’t want to move forward in creating these access points for just a single-family subdivision, for example. It really needs to be an extension of the downtown,” he said.
Cain expects to begin ground improvements in a couple of months for the buildings in the project’s first phase, which includes two restaurant buildings, an apartment building and an office building.
The first tenants to sign onto the project are Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar and M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. “We’re getting there,” Cain said.
“We don’t have a solid schedule on when the building starts, but we’re getting there.”