At the heart of the recent tensions between Metro Vancouver and UBC is a draft bylaw that lays out guidelines for development on campus.
The Metro Vancouver document spells out a range of permitted uses, maximum heights, and floor-space ratios in eight land-use zones within the campus, as well as a process for UBC to apply for uses not permitted by the bylaw.
The regional body’s move to regulate campus development has drawn a strong reaction from UBC president Stephen Toope, who described it in a November 14 e-mail to the university community as a threat to academic freedom. He argued that it will harm the university’s ability to begin projects quickly enough to satisfy outside funding sources.
Metro Vancouver chair Lois Jackson takes exception to Toope’s claims. According to the Delta mayor, the regional body doesn’t wish to impinge on the university’s educational pursuits, and just wants to put in place clear land-use rules and regulations.
“Bylaws are intended to make it fair for everybody,” Jackson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Whether it’s UBC or anybody else that will be coming forward on any of these lands, the bylaws are the same for everybody.”
UBC owns the land its Point Grey campus is situated on, and, as Jackson pointed out, the university acts as both the developer and the approving authority for its projects. As with other universities in the province, UBC’s campuses in downtown Vancouver and Kelowna are subject to the zoning regulations of their respective cities.
The proposed bylaw provides for four “institutional” zones accommodating a variety of uses, which range from education to research, recreation, conservation, restaurants, and dormitories.
Covering most of the campus, these areas will have buildings with a floor-space ratio—the figure obtained when the gross floor area of a building is divided by the area of the land parcel—of a minimum of 0.1 and a maximum of 2.8. Permitted maximum building heights range from seven metres to 53 metres.
Two additional proposed zones cover existing and future residential sites. These will host various forms of housing ranging from single-detached dwellings to high-rises, with floor-space ratios ranging from 1 to 2.8. Heights of up to 53 metres are allowed.
The draft bylaw also defines a public open-space zone to “accommodate regional park use, where the intent is to maintain the park in a natural state with some trails for public access”. The maximum floor-space ratio and building height in this area are 0.2 and nine metres, respectively.
The document likewise specifies a mixed-use commercial zone that will permit not only retail and service uses, but also dormitory and residential uses. Buildings here will have a maximum height of 15 metres and a floor-space ratio of 1.43.
The proposed bylaw was included in a package of documents put together for a November 25 meeting of a joint committee of Metro Vancouver and UBC representatives.
UBC associate professor of anthropology Charles Menzies was scheduled to address the meeting as a resident of Electoral Area A, the unincorporated area that includes the UBC campus.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Menzies said he agrees with the principle behind the draft bylaw, which, in his words, is that the university “shouldn’t be issuing permits to itself for its development”.
However, he argued that zoning bylaws are a function of municipal governments, and that until UBC has a directly elected local government, the zoning process initiated by Metro Vancouver should be put on hold.
At its meeting on November 20, the regional body’s electoral-area committee deferred a decision on the creation of a multiparty working group that will study additional land-use regulations for UBC.
According to Christina DeMarco, regional development division manager for Metro Vancouver, staff were instructed to review the composition of the proposed panel. She emphasized that when it is eventually struck, the group will be able to revise the draft zoning bylaw.
“We’re looking to the future where we’re going to get more densification on campus, in the institutional area and the new neighbourhoods,” DeMarco said. With this, she added, there needs to be a clear process for development at UBC.