UBC land-use plan revisited

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      For several years, senior officials at Metro Vancouver and UBC have been quarrelling over the pace of development at the Point Grey campus. UBC has maintained that it should be allowed to make decisions in the best interest of the university. This involved developing housing more quickly than the regional government wanted. Metro Vancouver staff, on the other hand, have expressed concerns that too much development can create traffic bottlenecks, which can undermine livability in the region.

      The issue came to a boil almost a year ago when UBC president Stephen Toope sent a bluntly worded e-mail to faculty, staff, and students. He claimed that Metro Vancouver’s plan to introduce a zoning bylaw could be “devastating to our academic freedom”.

      “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,” Toope stated in his e-mail. “World-changing learning and research requires cutting edge facilities, and the infrastructure to attract leading thinkers.”

      UBC’s Vancouver campus is in the constituency of Vancouver–Point Grey, which is represented by Premier Gordon Campbell. And earlier this year, his government took away Metro Vancouver’s authority over land-use planning on campus, making it appear as though UBC had won the war.

      But a report going to the Metro Vancouver board on Friday (October 29) suggests that this conflict is far from over. The regional electoral area committee has asked Metro Vancouver directors to ask UBC to “strengthen” its land-use plan to protect Pacific Spirit Regional Park. This would include “height regulations that address the concern of the visual impact of development” and “provisions for green edges that contribute to protecting the integrity of Pacific Spirit Regional Park”.

      In addition, the Metro Vancouver board will vote on a committee recommendation to ask UBC to “provide greater clarity” on future populations of commuters and residents on campus, as well as their impact on regional transit networks and other public infrastructure.

      Metro Vancouver planner Jason Smith highlighted in a recent report how population targets have grown at UBC. Under an official community plan adopted by Metro Vancouver in 1997, there were supposed to be 18,000 residents and students on campus by 2021. By 2008, there were almost 15,000 residents and students living there.

      However, UBC’s new land-use plan has forecast its campus population to rise by 2021 to between 41,800 and 51,800, including students in residence. “This level of population growth was not contemplated in the preparation of the Livable Region Strategic Plan or the new Regional Growth Strategy,” Smith wrote in the report. “There are a number of concerns with this level of growth, especially if this results in substantial commuting off campus. UBC should clarify of those 25,000 to 35,000 non-students”¦they envision living on campus, how many would be employees and their families?”

      The new minister of community, sport, and cultural development, Stephanie Cadieux, has final authority to approve UBC’s land-use plan. Before this happens, however, UBC must provide a regional context statement to Metro Vancouver for comment. This statement sets out the relationship between UBC’s land-use plan and regional objectives.

      The previous minister responsible for approving UBC’s land-use plan, Ben Stewart, wrote a letter in August to Metro Vancouver board chair Lois Jackson assuring her that there are sufficient checks and balances on land-use planning at UBC. “I am also very aware of Metro Vancouver’s view that the regional growth strategy must continue to apply on the UBC campus and that the UBC Land Use Plan must be consistent with it,” Stewart noted in his letter. “The legislation makes it clear that the regional growth strategy continues to apply.”

      However, Smith’s recent report stated that UBC had not released the wording of proposed amendments to its land-use plan. “This makes it difficult to provide precise comments on the amendments and their implications,” he added. “UBC is required to provide an updated regional context statement but this has not been provided in any materials made public to date.”




      Oct 27, 2010 at 5:12pm

      On the surface more residences at UBC campus seems like a good thing, I’m apprehensive of making Point Grey more of an animal house than it already is at the start of each new fall semester. TransLink is proud of the late night puke bus runs: they keep drunken students out of cars according to TransLink.

      From my perspective, TransLink is out of touch and late night transit is a ticket for late night parties. Without late night transit we’d just have fewer rowdy parties every fall. Residents are tired of the drunken hollering at bus stops. By January the party goers are weeded out or flunk out and things become more peaceful.

      We already have SFU which has an excellent faculty of business; I’ve read but can’t say for sure because the faculty of business always seemed like a Mickey Mouse faculty to me when I went to university. Couldn’t UBC send its business students to SFU to reduce transit and housing demand on campus at UBC? It’s not as if business students need to do any research, anyhow.


      Oct 27, 2010 at 10:44pm

      I find it remarkable that Metro would care about the pace of development at UBC given their historical lack of oversight through the suburbs. “Height regulations that address the concern of the visual impact of development”? It's an urban setting, and where it isn't—the interface with the park—the buildings are no taller than the trees surrounding them. This isn't about planning: it's about money, and Metro is just unhappy that they don't get to share in it despite providing fewer services to those who do live on campus (and pay the same property taxes as everyone else) than to residents elsewhere in the region.

      I'm lucky enough to live and work on campus. I'll take what UBC's done over what Metro's accomplished any day.


      Oct 30, 2010 at 11:52pm

      I'd be a whole lot happier if UBC was a university situated next door to a city - not a sprawling city unto itself. If the development of new residential projects continues, the campus will eventually have no space for future academic expansion.

      And please keep Wreck Beach intact!