The Board of Directors of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) met last night for the first time since early June. The Board, which usually meets monthly, had pre-emptively cancelled their July and August meetings because they didn’t think they’d achieve quorum with various people taking holidays. Turns out those fears may have been well-founded, because only four of the eight directors showed up last night (quorum is five) and the Board failed to conduct business for the third month in row.
This is only a minor paralysis, however, as it was made clear that urgent resolutions would instead be circulated to UNA directors via email for electronic approval. One of these resolutions was to approve a revised version of a document called the Neighbours Agreement. The revisions up for approval would allow for the possibility of the UNA imposing its by-laws on and collecting revenues from residents who don’t live within its borders, an unsettling way of expanding its jurisdiction. Let’s figure out why and how they want to do this.
The important background on this, and most stories about UBC development, is that UBC is not a municipality. This cannot be said often enough. UBC is not a municipality! UBC is a fiefdom. The use of this term is not an attempt to make a dig at the university, it’s purely descriptive: UBC has no local government and is under the control of a single landowner.
To deal with this, the UNA was created in 2002. It was designed as a quasi-municipal body to take over responsibilities and, probably more importantly, the administrative load associated with providing the services to residents that a municipality would normally provide. While the UBC Board of Governors still holds ultimate authority over pretty much everything that happens on campus, it devolves many of those powers and the day-to-day management to the UNA. Like UBC, the UNA is also not a government, they just pretend to be. Whoever wrote the UNA’s twitter bio explained it best: “The University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) approximates a municipal council for the local community on UBC campus.”
Around the time of the UNA’s creation, a document called the Neighbours Agreement was developed. It is contract between the UNA and the university that sets out the formal framework for the Board’s devolution of powers to the UNA. It is foundational document for the UNA, outlining their ability to receive revenue from the “Sevices Levy” (a charge to residents that approximates property taxes), and the services they are responsible for providing to residents. Having first been adopted in 2002, the document was revised in 2008, and is again up for revision in 2015.
While many of the revisions are routine housekeeping, a notable change is the addition of something called Designated Buildings. Up until now it has been clear that the UNA’s jurisdiction was strictly limited to the “Neighbourhood Areas”. These are the parts of campus where private housing development is allowed, represented by the purple colouring on the map below left. Outside of those Neighbourhood Areas – the yellow and gray parts of that map – the UNA has zero power or influence. This is good, since the yellow and grey areas correspond to all of the Academic land use designations, as shown in the map below right. Allowing the UNA to have jurisdiction over any of the yellow or gray parts would have meant granting them the ability to enact bylaws applying to students, faculty, and staff who have nothing to do with the residential parts of campus. Therefore, having the limits of the UNA’s jurisdiction directly mirror the borders between Neighbourhood and Academic land designations was an obvious and sensible practice.
The creation of a Designated Buildings category puts an end to that obvious and sensible practice. The changes proposed to the Neighbours Agreement would allow the UNA and UBC, by mutual agreement, to take a building that is outside of a Neighbourhood, (ie. within the yellow or gray areas on the left map) and declare that building to be under the UNA’s jurisdiction anyways. In identifying something as a Designated Building, the two parties must specify the following things:
- whether the building’s residents will be eligible for UNA membership;
- whether the Sevices Levy (UBC’s thing that approximates property taxes) will be provided to the UNA or retained by UBC;
- whether UBC or the UNA will provide the Municipal-like Services to the Designated Building;
- whether the Designated Building contains any UNA Amenities or Facilities;
- whether any UNA by-laws apply to the Designated Building and its residents;
- whether anything else relevant needs to be outlined;
This Designated Building section is explicitly contemplating a scenario in which a residential building outside of the Neighbourhoods could be made to pay the Services Levy to the UNA and be subject to UNA by-laws. This certainly appears to create a pathway for UBC and the UNA to circumvent the Land Use Plan and add additional land for private housing development. In essence, they are giving themselves the ability to carve out micro-Neighbourhoods within Academic land, one building at a time. This whole thing undermines the purpose and utility having a Land Use Plan with clearly delineated land use designations and potentially expands the UNA’s jurisdiction outside of its borders and into the Academic core of campus.
Why in the world would something like this be going ahead? The university is pushing this arrangement to enable some very sketchy housing projects in the University Boulevard area and has both lied to the UNA and essentially paid them off in getting them onside. The details of that will take a whole post on its own to unravel, so look for that later this week.