View of a CN train and Vancouver at night

Employment Lands and Economy Review provides quick-start actions for COVID-19 recovery and directions for citywide plan process

The Employment Lands and Economy Review helps us get a clearer picture of where and how businesses are operating, where there will be new demands in the future, and how we can make sure we have the right supply of land to meet these needs.

Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability

October 26 2020 –

Quick-start actions to support the City’s COVID-19 Recovery Program, as well as emerging policy directions to help Vancouver support jobs, businesses, and the future growth of our economy, were presented recently to Vancouver City Council. 

The priority actions and longer-term directions are part of the City’s Employment Lands and Economy Review (ELER), which has analyzed Vancouver’s employment sectors across the city, including office, commercial, retail, and industrial uses, to look at the strengths and challenges.

“The Employment Lands and Economy Review helps us get a clearer picture of where and how businesses are operating, where there will be new demands in the future, and how we can make sure we have the right supply of land to meet these needs,” said Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability. “The work of the review will also help Vancouver businesses toward pandemic recovery and be an important part of our broader citywide work through the Vancouver Plan.” 

The ELER actions and directions serve as one of the foundational components of the Vancouver Plan, a comprehensive, citywide process that will shape the future of our city to 2050 and beyond. Since the ELER launched in early 2019, staff have engaged with stakeholder groups and the public, and conducted in-depth research and analysis with the help of consultants.  

Vancouver is home to 33% of the jobs in our region in a range of businesses and services, and is expected to continue to be an important location for economic activity and job growth.

With the onset of COVID-19, work on the ELER shifted to incorporate emergency response initiatives that support workers and employers, and actions that the City can take to aid economic recovery.  

Quick-start priority actions

Council has endorsed the following quick-start priority actions which have related by-law amendments that will be brought forward for consideration at a public hearing or will undergo further review: 

  • Continue to develop and implement a new approved occupancy database for vacant commercial properties to provide businesses with the ability to avoid a change of use permit process by choosing to occupy spaces that were last approved for occupancy by the same type of business.
  • Provide businesses with continued support through the City’s Business Communications and Support Office, including coordinating efforts to advocate for senior government supports for businesses.
  • Remove barriers for new work-only artist studios in industrial areas to allow more work space for artists. 
  • Amend zoning to support new and existing small neighbourhood grocery stores in residential areas, which provide nearby goods and services, improved food security and neighbourhood character and identity.
  • Amend retail policies to allow for more flexibility in the use of ground floor spaces in some areas of the Downtown Eastside to help fill vacancies and lower barriers to community organizations that need space in the neighbourhood.
  • Amend the parking by-law to extend exceptions to parking requirements for small commercial spaces to lower barriers for businesses seeking commercial space and speed up permitting times. 
  • Enable additional industrial and office capacity and healthcare office uses for a section of the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area (along south side of 2nd Avenue, between Yukon and Quebec streets), a key location for intensification of industrial and employment uses. 
  • Review development policies to encourage more job space in strategic areas, including: looking at amending the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy to allow for integrated design development and increased job space at the Oak-VGH Broadway Subway station; and considering greater development heights and density at Marine Landing, beyond what was detailed in the Marpole Community Plan and the Cambie Corridor Plan, to encourage projects that deliver 100 per cent job space and multi-storey light industrial space. 

Key challenge areas

The Employment Lands and Economy Review also provides a comprehensive snapshot of the current status of the local economy and longer-term emerging directions to address the key challenge areas: 

  • Diversity, resilience, and equity
  • Retail Commercial Areas and Small Business
  • Industrial Areas
  • Office and Hotels

The emerging directions will be considered, refined, and confirmed through the Vancouver Plan process. Read more about the emerging directions

The ELER emerging directions will also guide further research, and policy and program development as part of the Vancouver Plan. Moving forward, staff will continue to collaborate with partners to implement recommended policies and ensure our economy is equitable and resilient for future generations. 

Backgrounder: ELER Emerging Directions 

The ELER emerging directions address the key challenges identified through the review. 

Diversity, resilience, and equity

The review revealed Vancouver’s economy is not equitable and many residents still have trouble making ends meet. COVID-19 has had the severest impacts on workers in the accommodation, food service, wholesale and retail industries, and on women and immigrants, many of whom have faced job security and health and safety issues. 

Emerging directions include: 

  • Encourage a diversity of jobs and sectors
  • Support non-profit and community-serving spaces, key economic drivers and innovation, community economic development, social enterprise and procurement, and skills training
  • Enhance the viability of the arts and culture sector
  • Apply an equity lens to economic development planning work
  • Ensure access to affordable, quality childcare and accessible transportation
  • Enable housing options for workers; prepare for climate change and other disasters; and create complete, resilient communities

Retail Commercial Areas and Small Business

Retail commercial areas and small businesses in Vancouver face challenges ranging from affordability and changing consumer trends to impacts from the pandemic. Although research and analyses show that there is currently reduced demand for space as a result of the pandemic and an accelerated shift towards online retail and automation, a considerable amount of additional retail and small office-type space will most likely still be required once the economy recovers to serve the needs of a growing population.  

Emerging directions include: 

  • Assist businesses and landlords to fill space vacancies quickly
  • Improve processes and outcomes for commercial renovations and emerging business models
  • Support small business and business district management
  • Advocate for senior government action to support retail-commercial areas
  • Expand the use of public space for formal and informal economic activities
  • Pursue initiatives to support small business recovery and business district reinvention
  • Ensure reliable and affordable transportation options for retail-commercial districts
  • Work with the community to diversify small-scale neighbourhood retail-commercial space, and if needed, address future shortages in the supply of space

Industrial Areas

The ELER has identified an ongoing need for industrial space in Vancouver, and projections show that the demand for industrial space will likely exceed the City’s ability to accommodate it over the long term. The demand will be driven by companies that support local businesses, manufacturing related to the growing high-tech market, and the need for fulfilment and distribution centres due to more online retail. Having sufficient space for industrial operations such as production, distribution and repair services will continue to be critical to the overall health of the economy. 

Emerging directions include: 

  • Protect industrial lands for employment use
  • Enable balanced industrial intensification
  • Facilitate the right users in the right spaces
  • Monitor, report, and coordinate industrial change

Office and Hotels

Before the onset of the pandemic, Vancouver was projected to need a significant increase in office space by 2051 (space for 41,900 to 76,000 jobs) and the demand for more hotel space was also expected to increase. COVID-19 has brought some uncertainty for future demand in office and hotel space, with more companies currently shifting to remote work and reduced tourism and major events leading to lower hotel occupancy. Despite these shifts, projections indicate that future demand for office and hotel space will put pressure on specific neighbourhoods, such as Downtown and Central Broadway. 

Emerging directions include: 

  • Continue to actively monitor impacts of COVID-19 on office and hotel demand
  • Identify options for increasing office and hotel capacity in key areas over the long-term, considering the location preferences of businesses

Read the detailed report on the ELER policy objectives and emerging directions (4 MB)