When Claire Robson decided to move into Wesbrook Place at UBC’s Point Grey campus a few years ago, it was because she wanted a good balance between urban living and nature.
Billed as a village in the woods, it’s a quiet community next to Pacific Spirit Regional Park.
This way of life that Robson enjoys may be about to change. Early next month, the UBC board of governors is expected to decide on proposed amendments to the neighbourhood plan that would bring more development into the area also known as South Campus.
For residents like Robson, this means high-rises and increased traffic.
“We always knew that there would be more buildings, and I think it’s important to know that we are not opposed to developing this area,” Robson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “When we moved in, we were the first people here and we knew that there would be construction for many years. And that was fine. We knew that. What we were told was, in Wesbrook, there would be 5,000 residents.”
However, Robson noted that the proposed changes would increase the population of the community to about 12,500 people.
The president of the strata council of Keenleyside, a four-storey residential development, Robson also said that the community wants more say in the future of their neighbourhood.
“My understanding is that the problem here is if this development was happening in, say, the City of Vancouver or in Burnaby, the city council would grant or deny building permits and they would determine the zoning,” she said. “The council obviously would be elected by the residents. What is happening here is that we are under-represented on the University Neighbourhoods Association, which is the best thing we have in terms of a council. But that really is stacked with university staff.”
The UNA board is composed of four directors elected by residents, two directors appointed by UBC, and one appointed by the Alma Mater Society, the student union.
The association represents about 8,000 residents in the five residential neighbourhoods on campus: Hampton Place, Hawthorn Place, Chancellor Place, East Campus, and Wesbrook Place. It is responsible for local regulations on noise, parking, and animal control.
But UNA doesn’t have a say in land-use planning and policy-making.
Concerns raised over plans for Wesbrook Place have also revived criticisms about UBC’s total control over development on its campus. It is the landowner, developer, and regulator.
In a phone interview, UBC’s Joe Stott didn’t want to get into a discussion about governance, saying it’s a larger issue beyond his authority as director of campus and community planning.
A planner who has extensive experience working in Vancouver, Richmond, Langley, and Edmonton, and with the Metro Vancouver regional district, Stott asserted that UBC has a better public consultation process than many municipal governments.
According to Stott, there will be 22 new developments in Wesbrook Place. Four buildings will be 20 to 22 storeys, one will have 14 storeys, another will have nine, and the rest are going to be six-storey structures.
“We’re adding a parcel of land that had been occupied by research facilities,” Stott told the Straight. “There will be new parks, new buffers, and streets.”
There are 13 existing residential properties in Wesbrook Place, according to Stott.
He said that the UBC board of governors will consider the adoption of amendments to the neighbourhood plan on December 1.
According to UBC’s online explanation of its plans for Wesbrook Place, the changes will “help achieve a more sustainable community and transfer some of the housing density from UBC Farm, which has been retained for sustainability teaching, research and innovation”.
The university’s board of governors decided in November 2008 that no family housing will be built on UBC Farm. However, the farm’s allotted residential density will be transferred elsewhere.
UNA vice chair Thomas Beyer argued that it’s time for residents to have a hand in how future developments are approved at UBC. Beyer told the Straight by phone that allowing the UNA to appoint members of the university’s development permit board would be a good starting point.