LUP Public Hearing Committee Reports Back to Board

Today, the Board of Governors Community Planning Committee will be meeting to discuss the report from the Public Hearing Committee on the Land Use Plan amendments. (At least, they’ll be meeting publicly about it. They’ve likely already held a private meeting where everything has already been decided upon.) The 114-page package is a compilation of a number of documents:

  • A Summary of the Public Hearing and recommendations based on feedback at the hearing
  • Minutes of the public hearing
  • Revised amendments to the LUP
  • A document outlining how C&CP considered feedback throughout the process
  • The results of a telephone survey about the LUP amendments
  • A listing of materials to be submitted to Minister Stephanie Cadieux
  • Proposed, revised, terms of reference for a UTown@UBC Advisory Committee

In a nutshell, no noticeable changes were made to the LUP amendments as a result of the public hearing, despite an overwhelming expression of dissatisfaction with various aspects of the plan. Presumably, this inaction falls under BOG’s “Strong Governance” mandate for the process. In fact, the most significant change to the LUP comes not as a result of any feedback given by any member of the public, but rather by UBC’s lawyers, who recommended the addition of the following:

“If a portion of this Land Use Plan is held to be invalid by a Court of competent jurisdiction, then the invalid portion must be severed and the remainder of this Land Use Plan is deemed to have been adopted by the minister, in accordance with the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (No.3), Part 10-2010, without the severed section, subsection, paragraph, subparagraph, clause or phrase.”

It’s a way to protect themselves in case someone was motivated enough to challenge the questionable aspects of the amendments in court. The assignment of 28,800 m2 of housing to Gage South and the redesignation of a “future housing reserve” area in South Campus to “neighbourhood housing” would be examples of things that could be subject to judicial review. Rather than taking public feedback and making modifications that are responsive to community concerns, the instinct, as always, is to take no meaningful action while strengthening ways to deflect criticism. Here’s the response to the various issues raised in the public hearing.

Gage South

One word. That’s what the change to the Gage South proposal entailed.

One word.

“Should the area not be used for neighbourhood housing, the housing allocated to this area, approximately 28800 square metres in building(s) of six storeys, will may be transferred to another part of campus.

Of the 33 unique speakers at the public hearing, 15 were students. All 15 said that “area under review” was inadequate for an area in the university’s academic core and that the requirement to transfer density posed numerous problems.

Granted, the public hearing committee did not have the authority to change the “Area Under Review” designation. But it did have the authority to remove the entire clause above or at the very least to revise the inaccurate figure of 28,800 m2 of housing assigned to the area. Removing the whole clause would have had the same effect – it would say nothing about density transfer either way – while committing the university to approach the review process in good faith and with an open mind. By leaving it in, even with the change that the density transfer would no longer be required it’s still positioning the density transfer issue as the primary concern of the review, prioritized above determining what would be most suitable use for the area.

The recommendation is that completing the review of this area should be C&CP’s top priority in 2011.

“It will be important to address this matter in a timely way in 2011 and to complete the planning review and following Land Use Plan amendment process as quickly as possible. To that end, another recommendation is that Board direct staff, by resolution, to prioritize the planning related to the ‘Area Under Review’ in 2011 (…) This would allow the numerous projects within this area to proceed in a timely manner, with the SUB, Aquatic Centre, new diesel bus terminal and new outdoor bookable spaces for students to be completed in the 2012-2014 period, followed by rental housing should that be the outcome of the planning review.”

It then concludes that a working group to undertake the review is to be comprised of students, the AMS, faculty, staff, residents, the UNA, and the UEL, working with C&CP staff. A public hearing to revise the LUP and resolve the ‘area under review’ designation should be held in Fall 2011. Wait, what? The bus loop planning process has been ongoing for about 8 years, but suddenly it will be completed in another 8 months? Planning for a new aquatic centre, while in the back of many people’s minds for a long time, hasn’t had any official work done on it to date. The public realm improvements are ongoing but are not focused on the area adjacent to Gage South. All of these processes will have to be on turbo overdrive to get them done on that timeframe.

If there was such a rush to get this sorted out, why not have dealt with the designation of Gage South during the current LUP revision process? Gage South has been identified as an issue since day one but it was ignored during the first two consultation phases. The ‘area under review’ designation was a stalling tactic to avoid dealing with it immediately as part of the current process, but now the idea is to deal with it as quickly as possible once this ends. What the hell is going on here?

It seems like an attempt to provoke a ‘crisis’, insisting this must be resolved in a very short timeframe, to quickly push through some already-decided-upon plans for the area. Students were very clear during the public hearing: The only appropriate designation for Gage South is academic.

Affordable Housing; Housing Choice

The driving force behind changes to the LUP has always been stated as UBC’s desire to create more housing choice and more affordable housing. Emphasis on the ‘more’. However, other than simply saying unit sizes would decrease, no other details were offered as to how affordability is defined, or what mechanism exist to achieve it. C&CP will be working on a “Housing Action Plan” to determine how to accomplish UBC’s housing affordability goals.

For reference, UBC considers “below market” prices for faculty/staff rental housing as $1225-$1275/mo for 1-bedroom and $1375-$1850/mo for a 2-bedroom apartment. In comparison, a market rental development in South Campus, The Mews is advertising itself as “affordable” at what UBC considers market prices.

Advertisements for 'The Mews' describe it as affordable. You be the judge.

Housing Density

Reaction to the proposed densities on campus was mixed. Students advocated for higher density targets, arguing that the land was finite and not being used to its full potential. Current campus residents advocated for lower density targets, arguing that it would result in insufficient amenities for the communities being built. They might both be right.

In an attempt to provide more information to both sides about the plans, C&CP will create documents that outline exactly how much building floorspace will be assigned to each neighbourhood housing area under the proposed LUP changes. Two such scenarios will be created: one if the housing in Gage South is transferred, and one if it is not transferred. The obvious question here is: why wasn’t something like this created for the consultation process?

There was also an addition to the clause specifying the maximum average and site-specific floor space area:
“The maximum average floor space ratio will be 2.5 net area. No individual site will have a floor space ratio greater than 3.5 net area. For clarity, this average density may be achieved through variable allocation across neighbourhood housing areas.

What this is meant to clarify is that, because an already-developed area like Hawthorne was developed with an FSR of 1.2, another separate area of campus could be developed with an overall FSR of >3 and the two areas would compensate for one another. A neighbourhood with overall FSR >3 would represent exclusively mid-to-highrise buildings.

Community Involvement/Consultation

The proposal to improve community involvement in the planning process has two parts. The first is to brief the UNA about any projects immediately adjacent to neighbourhoods, rather than simply showing up with cranes. The second is to create new “associate member” seats for external groups on a UTown@UBC advisory committee. This committee only meets 2 times per year and the seats are just to receive info on what UBC wants to do. Both proposals are ultimately meaningless.

Pacific Spirit Park

Concern for the park and other green spaces is identified as a theme in the hearings, but no further protection for these green spaces is proposed beyond completing a Stormwater Management Plan requested by Metro Van. It is proposed that everything regarding these be dealt with in the neighbourhood planning process. Again, ultimately meaningless.

Overall, the public hearing didn’t result in any substantive changes, despite many objections. The board’s “strong governance” mandate for the process has not manifested itself in the form of strong governance. This is bad, not just the people with concerns, but also for the university. As I said in a Ubyssey piece earlier this year:

“Listening to the legitimate concerns of the university community, acknowledging the inherent challenges of land use planning on campus and working with students, staff and residents to find common ground may seem like more work in the short-term, but would inevitably achieve a better end result. It’s deeply ironic that C&CP’s primary goal for the communities they design is that they be holistic. Until this principle is also reflected in the planning process, that goal will never be achieved.”


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