Land Use Plan Revisions: A Massive Conflict of Interest. From Here.

In case you hadn’t heard, UBC’s Land Use Plan (LUP) is up for review. The LUP is the highest-level planning document for the campus, mapping out what is and isn’t allowed on various parts of campus. It determines which areas are for academic uses, which areas are for greenspace, and which areas are for market housing, for example. It also lays out the parameters for that development, things like housing density or maximum building heights.

The current LUP used to be called the Official Community Plan (OCP) and was originally enacted in 1997 as a by-law of Metro Vancouver. Until recently, it had remained relatively static since then. After ongoing friction between the university and Metro Vancouver over land use planning on the Point Grey Campus, the provincial government granted Metro Van and UBC a divorce. As a consequence of this, the province also transferred control of Land Use Planning for the campus to UBC on a temporary basis by the passage of Part 10 of the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (MEVA) in June 2010, also known as Bill 20.

Plans for a new 14-storey market housing building going up in front of Fairview. As part of the Land Use Plan revisions, UBC should be willing to discuss the appropriate amount of campus development to take place over the next 50 years. They don't want to talk about it; they just want to figure out where to put it.

A Massive Conflict of Interest. From Here.

The current situation is that UBC is in a position to determine the land use policy for campus and acts as the local government, with only token oversight from the provincial Ministry of Community and Rural Development. Again, this is meant to only be a temporary situation. However, given that UBC is also the sole property owner and primary developer on campus, it’s a clear conflict of interest that they are also the ones regulating the land on campus. Rather than recognizing this conflict of interest and recusing themselves from this responsibility, UBC has decided to do the exact opposite, actively pursuing control over the land, and are now undertaking a major revision of the LUP.

The province has reportedly informed UBC they have a window of about two years to figure out the long-term governance situation. The sensible thing would have been to install a new municipal governance model first, then have whatever municipal government forms undertake the LUP revision process. This would in theory result in more accountability, and less of a massive conflict of interest. However, that would mean giving up a large chunk of control over the process, something you can be sure UBC is not interested in doing, so they are trying to squeeze this process into the short window during which they are in complete control.

Lest you think this is just another one of our awesome conspiracy theories, consider this: Bill 20 became only became law on June 24, 2010. Less than 24 hours later, the board held an extraordinary meeting with just a single item on the agenda: starting the LUP revisions. Ordinarily the board only has five meetings per year. Eager much?

What are they so eager about?

One thing Campus and Community Planning (C&CP) is doing with this process is downplaying its importance. They point out that it’s not a whole new plan, it’s only a change to the existing plan. That might be so, but in reality, >90% of campus lands will see a change as a result of this. Some changes may be minor, especially in areas that are fully built up already, but they all still fall under the scope of this process.

To most people, the real importance of this process lies in two places. The first is the UBC Farm. Although promises about the farm’s future have been made, the follow-up to make sure the land is actually protected hasn’t yet been done. Changes to the farm’s designation as part of this process will go a long way towards securing the farm’s future. The second is market housing on campus. This is the best opportunity to discuss the necessity and/or desire for market housing. Should UBC be planning to build more on campus? If so, where should it go, and what should it look like?

With that said, here’s what C&CP says about the the motivation behind this: “changes to the Land Use Plan are necessary to address long-standing issues the university community identified as obstacles to UBC’s mission and vision during the Vancouver Campus Plan Review process.

The issues:

  • Housing and sustainability
    Increase housing choices and improve housing affordability for our faculty, staff and students, thereby contributing to the creation of a more sustainable community.
  • Retention of the UBC Farm
    Change the land use designation for the UBC Farm from “Future Housing Reserve” to “Green Academic” to support sustainability teaching, research and innovation.
  • Housing density transfer
    Transfer housing density from UBC Farm and other areas to support sustainable development and UBC’s academic mission.
  • Academic land use designations
    Regularize academic land use designations to better align with UBC’s academic mission and vision.

To claim that these priorities were identified by the university community, (the implication being that the issues at stake reflect the interests of the campus at large, not simply the priorities of C&CP and UBC) is, at most, only half-correct. The Campus Plan Phase 5 Consultation Summary indicates that during the consultations they cite, people were indeed interested in preserving the UBC Farm and increasing housing affordability and choice for students, faculty and staff. It’s a very good thing that they are looking to make the development that is happening on campus more dense.

However, it all misses the underlying issue of it all: what level of development should there be on campus? Having density transfer as one of the issues simply assumes that all of the market and faculty/staff housing planned for campus should still be built; it’s only considering where. Given that the issues supposedly came from the Campus Plan process, it has to be noted that the #1 additional key theme from that consultation was that “UBC should stop building private “family”, luxury, or seniors housing on campus”. It’s difficult to see how density transfer is an issue reflective of the community when the existing density is disliked. This particular priority of the university community certainly isn’t reflected in the proposed changes at all but the LUP is exactly the place where it should be discussed. Finally, does anyone really believe that anyone outside of C&CP has ever spontaneously identified regularizing academic land use designations as an issue? The only person to come out in support of it is one of the university AVPs. It would be nice if C&CP would admit upfront that, aside from the UBC Farm, the consultation topics reflect their priorities, rather than making it seem like they are being responsive to issues that people either disagree with, or never actually brought up.

Regardless, the LUP consultation is happening. There is an online workbook where you can give feedback (WARNING: all of the questions are leading), consultation events happening this week, and a public hearing sometime in November/December. We cannot urge readers strongly enough to get involved and make your voice heard, especially on the topic of market housing on campus. The university should be discussing how much housing is appropriate for campus, not simply where to put it, assuming all housing is good housing. Tell them you want to talk about it.

We’ll be highlighting a number of issues from the LUP process in the upcoming days, but keeping in mind the fact that the process was born from a consolidation of power in the university’s hands – a consolidation of power that is a clear conflict of interest – will hopefully help make clear why certain things are happening the way they are.


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  1. This is a great article Neal. Despite the clear conflict of interest you’ve laid out, I am very pessimistic about UBC changing its course anytime soon. This time around there is no SDS to raise a ruckus and no AMS to apply backroom lobbying pressure.

    It would be great if UBC actually started to seriously work on improving the undergraduate and graduate experiences instead of focusing on matters better handled by a municipal government.

    Posted by Blake Frederick | October 10, 2010, 5:34 pm
  2. eh, I was just complaining yesterday about no updates on here.
    Great article Neal!!
    I think that the more people know about the governance issues at UBC (like, by reading detailed, insightful articles like this one) the more it will come to the forefront. We saw with the UBC Farm issue that it took many years until the issue, and the community’s stand on it were so clear they could no longer be ignored. It took a long time though, and various different itterations of advocacy initiatives (including ones that didn’t happen, like the farm fee referendum).
    It’s just an example of an issue coming up against CC&P that needed alot of time to “warm up” even though the facts were pretty clear from an early stage. It’s similar with the governance thing – we know it’s a problem, we’ve known it for years – but the voume needs to be raised.

    Posted by Maayan | October 11, 2010, 1:50 am
  3. Thanks for this writing this insightful critique of the Land Use Plan process, Neal.

    Your point about the need to specify the composition of the proposed housing density is a very important one.

    I would also emphasize that, simply put, amendments to increase housing density on other parts of campus make it possible to keep housing off of the UBC Farm. Thus, if the type of density were reflective of much of the community’s priorities, then increased density would present a win-win situation of a secured 24-ha land base for the UBC Farm along with more affordable housing options on campus.

    Posted by Anelyse Weiler | October 11, 2010, 12:32 pm
  4. you should edit your articles more often…

    Posted by concerned | October 15, 2010, 3:37 pm
  5. Concerned,

    Is there an editing problem with this article, or others? If there is, please let me know the details.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | October 15, 2010, 3:47 pm
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