Metro Vancouver "highly likely" to run out of industrial space by 2035: report

Sep 12 2019, 4:50 pm

Without intervention, at the current rate of demand and growth, Metro Vancouver is highly likely to run out of vacant and undeveloped industrial-zoned land in the decade between 2035 and 2045.

A new report by Wollenberg Munro Consulting, commissioned by Metro Vancouver Regional District, forecasts the take-up of vacant industrial land for industrial uses to be just over 200 acres per year. Another 250 acres annually is turned into other uses, such as residential and commercial developments.

The study considers the possibility that industrial land demand will accelerate, and asserts that it is “unlikely that in the foreseeable future there will be a decline in the pace of industrial growth or reduced need for industrial land to accommodate industrial development.”

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Analysts have identified that the only factors that could cause a downward demand on industrial land is if high industrial land values drive away industrial businesses, and high housing prices limit the supply of skilled labour.

Metro Vancouver industrial

2015 map of Metro Vancouver’s industrial land inventory. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

As of 2015, there were about 5,500 acres of vacant industrial land, although this consists of not only land vacant of industrial uses but also land that is currently used for other purposes such as residential and agricultural.

Residential use is the leading culprit of non-industrial uses on industrial lands, with 685 acres of residential use accounting for 12.3% of the vacant industrial land. This is followed by agricultural — 386 acres or 7%.

The entire region currently has 28,000 acres of total industrial land inventory, equivalent to the size of the city of Vancouver, but over 22,000 acres (80%) of this is already developed for industrial uses.

Just 3,200 acres are actually vacant and available for new industrial development, and just under half of this inventory is in parcels of 10 acres or more — large sites that are suitable for uses such as warehouses. This availability figure excludes the vacant industrial lands reserved for future Port of Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport uses.

“Based on these indicators, the inventory of vacant industrial land is not sufficient to last through the planning horizon of the Regional Industrial Lands Strategy, which is the year 2050,” reads the report.

“The Strategy must confront the possibility that under present trends continued, Metro Vancouver cannot keep accommodating industrial growth except through densification/intensification, which works for some uses but not others.”

Analysts recommend a trio of approaches that intensify and densify industrial land use, which results in spaces that are suitable for smaller scale industrial businesses. But the report acknowledges that this method generally does not accommodate very large manufacturing or logistics uses.

Policymakers should also enact measures that better protect the existing inventory of industrial land, such as revising municipal zoning bylaws to reduce allowable non-industrial uses of industrial land in areas where existing and new industrial development are still functional and economically viable.

“Many retail and office uses have options for where they locate (albeit at a higher land or rent cost), but large industrial uses do not, so zoning should be revisited to reduce or eliminate some kinds of retail, service commercial, and office use in solidly industrial areas,” reads the report.

False Creek Flats

Map identifying all of the non-traditional industrial uses in the False Creek Flats industrial lands in Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

The third approach is to increase the available inventory of vacant industrial land, especially for large industrial land users.

Analysts conclude that the vast lands designated for the protected agricultural land reserve (ALR) need to be reexamined for conversion into industrial uses. If the size of the region’s ALR remains the same, there will be limited options to accommodate industrial development.

“If the region wants to maintain the full dimensions of its economic and employment diversity, it is necessary to confront the challenge of being able to accommodate large manufacturing and logistics users,” adds the report.

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Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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