How To Get A Condo Built At UBC

Today, the Ubyssey published a story about Modern Green’s dealings with UBC. Modern Green is the Beijing-based property development firm behind a condo development called “Yu” in Wesbrook Place. I had been looking into this story for quite some time before giving the Ubyssey all the documents I had in hopes that they could keep digging.

Since today’s issue of the Ubyssey is the last one for a few months, and campus is wrapped up in the flurries of exam season, this story might end up flying under the radar and fading away quickly. It shouldn’t. Everyone should get to know about the charming story of a condo developer offering the university money, and the university responding by giving the condo developer favourable treatment.

On the surface, it seemed simple. Modern Green, a believer in urban sustainability, wanted to contribute $3.5 million to CIRS, where UBC conducts its research into sustainable building practices. When it was announced, it was trumpeted by UBC as a partnership to further “green building research”.

As is made clear in the contribution agreement between Modern Green and UBC (obtained via Freedom of Information request), it wasn’t that simple.

First of all, UBC used a third party to collect the money on its behalf. That third party was UBC Properties Trust. And most crucial of all, the payments would be made as lease payments on a parcel of land that Modern Green hoped to secure for a condo development in Wesbrook Place.

Put in another way, just to make things clear: no lease, no money. UBC only gets the $3.5M from Modern Green if they allow Modern Green to develop a condo on campus. But UBC, with its “robust approval process” for campus development in place, would not let a thing like the promise of $3.5M cloud its judgement, right?

No, of course not.

Which is why, on March 28, 2011, Modern Green submitted a development permit application for Yu. The plans outlined a six-storey building, located a block south of Save On Foods. On the date the application was submitted, the South Campus Neighbourhood Plan specified a height limit of 5 storeys for Yu’s proposed site. The building Modern Green wanted to construct was taller than the rules allowed for.

With what can only be classified as extremely fortuitous timing, a week later on April 5, UBC’s Board of Governors approved two specific revisions to the South Campus Neighbourhood Plan. The key revision: raise the height limit for Yu’s site to 6 storeys, a change which affected no other developments.

By the time it came to evaluate Modern Green’s proposal at UBC’s Development Permit Board on May 11, its height no longer violated the neighbourhood plan. It did, however, violate UBC’s Development Handbook, which also limited the height to 5 storeys. No matter, the Development Permit Board voted to relax that section of the regulations for the project, allowing it to proceed.

Modern Green’s project had now been approved, and all it had taken was for UBC to change and bend its development rules to conform to the building Modern Green had proposed, rather than having Modern Green’s proposal conform to the development rules set out by UBC. A lease was signed between Modern Green and UBC Properties Trust on July 8, 2011. As per the terms of that lease, Modern Green has already paid UBC Properties Trust $2.5M of its contributions towards CIRS. A final payment of $1M will be made on December 1, 2013. Two bedroom units in the building are currently listed starting at $689,900, and interested buyers can visit their presentation centre daily from noon – 5 pm.


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  1. Really interesting report. Questions/comments:

    -In addition to questions this raises about the integrity of university’s development governance, seems like your report raises other questions about how UBC managed it’s compliance w/ existing policies that govern its acceptance of donations/gifts — policy 114, specifically. Is a contribution not a type of gift? Is there a separate policy that guides the university’s acceptance of contributions? UBC’s original media release ( ) refers to arrangement as a strategic partnership and contribution. UBCPT, in Ubyssey, calls it contribution, and says no donor receipt given. Interestingly, flack from UBC Development is less hip to semantic care and calls it ‘donation.’ Policy 114 explicitly qualifies a ‘gift’ as a voluntary transfer where there is no expectation of return. The contribution contract, in bullet 2. makes clear that there is quid pro quo. The University accepted this contribution, but are having UBCPT accept the actual payment. Is that the university’s effort to stay compliant with their stated donation policy? Is that sufficient diligence?

    -Also seems like Policy 97 allows someone to raise this as a potential conflict of interest, and provides an investigatory process. Maybe especially since UBC’s release refers to the South Campus development as an example of ‘applied research’ that Modern Green and UBC will partner on. Seems like that brings scholarly integrity into play. Point is that there may be review processes here that are outside of DPB or campus planning, and it might be useful to see how those can investigate this matter.

    Just some thoughts. Seems like your effort here should inspire some action beyond the story. Didn’t read to deep on these policies, so my bad if I’m off on some facts. Bet Darren will jump in here too…

    –Jeff Friedrich

    Posted by Jeff Friedrich | April 13, 2013, 5:39 pm
  2. Not much to add, does look a little sketchy.

    UBC is charitable and UBCPT is not, so it is evidently acknowledged that this is not a charitable donation. Since UBCPT leases the land and also builds CIRS, this route may be more efficient, although it makes it look a bit more like a bribe.

    UBC wanted CIRS built, and it wasn’t fully funded. They struggled for a very long time to figure out how to pay for it. Long enough to get ultimatums from and trigger rule changes at CFI, who funded a fair chunk of it.

    If the South Campus application was submitted one week before Board, it was probably after Board’s committee day, when the decision had been actually made, for all intents and purposes. It was probably framed as: adding one insignificant storey somewhere gets CIRS $3.5M closer to being fully funded. All levels of approval and oversight are UBC anyway, so changing the rules isn’t tough.

    Posted by Darren Peets | April 21, 2013, 1:06 pm
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