UBC president Stephen Toope has sent a blunt e-mail to the university’s faculty, staff, and students describing Metro Vancouver’s proposals for regulating campus developments as “devastating to our academic freedom”.
“I cannot overemphasize how important it is that UBC continue to fully and responsibly govern its academic land use,” Toope wrote in the November 14 e-mail. “The freedom to learn is fundamental to why universities exist, and that freedom must be underpinned by autonomy to decide what, where, and how to study. World-changing learning and research requires cutting edge facilities, and the infrastructure to attract leading thinkers.”
On Friday (November 20), Metro Vancouver’s electoral-area committee will vote on a regional-government staff recommendation to endorse the terms of reference for a working group on additional land-use development mechanisms at UBC. According to a staff report to the committee, the working group would “ensure the effective implementation” of the official community plan and “reduce development impacts on neighbouring communities”.
The report also states that the working group would achieve the goals of the as-yet-unapproved regional-growth strategy, provide an “open and transparent public engagement process for all members of the university community”, and “ensure the quality of life and community at UBC is preserved”. In addition, the working group would “provide clarity over the implementation of development controls and who will have jurisdiction for which aspects”.
The report suggests that the working group include one member from each of the following areas: Metro Vancouver planning, Metro Vancouver regional parks, UBC campus planning, UBC Properties Trust, the City of Vancouver, the University Neighbourhoods Association, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, University Endowment Lands, the Alma Mater Society, the Musqueam Band, the Pacific Spirit Park Society, and the Wreck Beach Preservation Society.
The working group would hold four meetings over a four-month period, followed by a final public meeting, at which its recommendations and report would be issued.
UBC and Metro Vancouver signed a memorandum of understanding in 2000 to deal with institutional and noninstitutional development on campus. Toope claimed in his e-mail that despite the existence of this agreement, “Metro Vancouver has begun the process of pre-empting UBC’s control over planning on its own academic lands.”
“A heavy-handed set of additional land-use provisions would impose nine new zones on the greater UBC area, including seven zones on academic land,” Toope added. “Metro also proposes a costly series of development permit restrictions, which would create a regulatory morass that would put a choke-hold on our future.”
There has been some controversy over how UBC has proceeded with development planning in connection with the UBC Farm and with UBC’s plan for four student residential towers beside Wreck Beach.
The UBC campus is part of Electoral Area A. Under B.C.’s Local Government Act, Metro Vancouver is responsible for land-use planning in local electoral areas.
A second report going to the electoral-area committee on Friday recommends that Metro Vancouver staff work with UBC staff “to address the provision of adequate community, recreation and green space for UBC campus”.
On October 22, UBC vice president Stephen Owen wrote a letter to the chair of the electoral-area committee, Maria Harris, claiming that the “introduction of a zoning bylaw that attempts to control academic land use is in conflict with our mutual understandings”. Owen also alleged that this would lead to “over-governance of the campus lands”, which would lead in turn to “inefficiencies and difficulties”.
Harris declined the Straight’s request for an interview prior to a planned meeting with UBC officials later this month. In an October 26 letter to Owen, Harris stated that she appreciates that UBC and many of its residents prefer minimal interference with academics, land development, and other municipal services.
“We need to find an outcome that satisfies those who wish for a hands off approach, provides an appropriate process for those who from time to time find themselves in conflict with decisions that have been or are about to be made, and meets Metro Vancouver's legal and political obligations while minimizing added levels of government processes that do not add value,” Harris wrote.
UBC’s development plans
> A minimum of one million square feet of net new teaching and research facilities will be built on campus over the next 20 years.
> Approximately 3.2 million square feet of residential space will be built on campus over the next 20 years.
> There are 8,000 beds on campus for students, which will be doubled by 2030; by then, they will be used by half of all full-time students.
> Enrollment of full-time and part-time students will increase from 44,720 in 2008-09 to 47,623 in 2017, and remain stable until 2030.
> No market housing will be developed in the 24-hectare South Campus area that contains the UBC Farm, subject to board approval of the academic plan and other factors.
Source: Draft UBC Vancouver Campus Plan to 2030