Industrial land for 'general' users in short supply

A new strategy from city hall aims to address a tight light industrial market. One idea is to open vacant business parks up to light industrial users.  - Matthew Hoekstra
A new strategy from city hall aims to address a tight light industrial market. One idea is to open vacant business parks up to light industrial users.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

Richmond will lose its light industrial market share in the region unless more land is found for small manufacturers and warehouses, according to a new report.

Presented Monday to city council, a Richmond Economic Development Office strategy says a key constraint in boosting the local economy is the lack of employment lands—particularly industrial.

Much of the city's industrial base is controlled by Port Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Airport Authority—federally-regulated bodies that earmark land for "strategic transportation related uses"—shutting out "general" light industrial businesses, according to the draft Richmond Resilient Economy Strategy 2014-2019.

"Richmond has a very small inventory of land available for this type of user. In fact, there is virtually no sizable land currently on the market that could be characterized as vacant, subdivided, serviced, and available for sale to an industrial user that wants to commence construction immediately," noted the strategy, prepared in part by Coriolis Consulting Corp.

Besides losing out on potential jobs, the lack of land could also cause a long-term shift in the city's tax base, the strategy warns. The city will either have to draw more tax from a proportionally smaller industrial tax base or shift more of the burden on homeowners.

Complicating matters is the City Centre Area Plan, which laid out a major shift away from light industrial in Richmond's downtown core.

"The situation will be exacerbated over time because much of the land around the City Centre designated for high density residential and mixed use development is currently occupied by light industrial users. These will have to relocate and if they cannot find sites in Richmond will move to Delta, Surrey, or further east."

The strategy suggests the city help forced out firms find alternate locations in Richmond before they move out of the city altogether. It also suggests numerous ways of using available land more effectively without touching the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Other ideas include completing an industrial land market study, talking with owners of large tracts of industrial land for possible subdivision, and examining agricultural land—not in the ALR—that could be converted to industrial.

"There is a small amount of land in this category that is not viable agricultural land and could potentially be converted to certain types of industrial use," the strategy noted.

One such plan, to convert vacant agricultural land to a warehouse distribution centre, is already being proposed for property across from SilverCity Riverport.

Changing the rules to allow greater site coverage and opening up vacant space in business parks—where nearly one in five offices is empty, as growth in technology firms didn't materialize—are other ideas.

The strategy also shines a light on the city's current distribution of jobs.

Similar to the rest of the region, 40 per cent of Richmond's jobs are community-oriented, defined as jobs that "meet the day-to-day needs of local residents," such as retail clerks, hair stylists and teachers.

Transportation, warehousing, logistics, wholesale and manufacturing combined for 34 per cent of all jobs, while tourism is linked to seven per cent of jobs.

Richmond's share of total employment in the region has remained steady—approximately 10 per cent for the last two decades, according to the strategy.

"It will be challenging to retain this share going forward, as population and employment growth in the region are shifting eastward due to land availability," according to the report.

City staff are expected to collect more input on the strategy before presenting a final plan early next year.

Jobs in Richmond

•44,000: Community-oriented

•15,000: Transportation, warehousing, logistics

•12,000: Manufacturing

•9,500: Wholesale

•7,500: Tourism

•5,500: Technology

•4,500: Commercial services

•3,500: Higher education and hospital

•3,000: Construction

•2,000: Resource

•1,500: Finance, insurance, real estate

•500: Film

•500: Government headquarters

* Source: Richmond Resilient Economy Strategy 2014-2019

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