Shit UBC Says: Take our Money and Trust Us

A recent post on the blog talked about the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) positioning itself to essentially annex individual buildings outside its borders. It ended by hinting that the UBC is ultimately behind this, and has both lied to the UNA and essentially paid them off to enable some sketchy housing projects in the University Boulevard area. This post explores some of those aspects in more detail.

The background for this part requires a close reading of something presented at the May 2015 meeting of the UNA Board, a proposal from UBC Campus and Community Planning (C+CP):

    At the April 28 meeting of the Operations and Sustainability Standing Committee, UBC C+CP proposed to the Directors that residents who will live in university housing (only available to UBC staff, faculty, students) in the UBlvd precinct would become members of the UNA, as the UNA has always anticipated to represent all residents on campus that were not living in student academic housing. There is no market housing contemplated for the precinct. Although the precinct would not be a UNA neighbourhood, residents would enjoy the benefits of membership and the services provided by the UNA. In recognition of the cost of providing services, UBC proposes remitting all services levies collected from these residential buildings to the UNA. UBC would provide all municipal services in the precinct.

Sketchy Housing Projects

It is important to note that they specifically use the term University Boulevard “Precinct”, which is an unofficial area with arbitrarily-defined borders (below left). However, looking at the Precinct through a planning lens shows that it is not a homogeneous area (below right.) A portion of it is under the Village Centre Academic designation, which does allow for faculty/staff rental housing to be built within the oddly-shaped red box (below left). The rest of the Precinct is under the Academic designation, which does not allow for faculty/staff rental housing to be built.

Maayan touched on the general sketchiness of the current UBlvd plan in an earlier post, but it boils down to this: in the image above on the right, there are two blue blobs marked “GSAB” and “D.H. Copp”. It is clear that both sites largely sit on Academic land, and therefore private housing should not be allowed on the majority of those sites. Naturally, UBC is planning to build private housing on the entirety of both sites, because following the rules is for schmucks.

A side effect of the projects not following the rules is that they create an incongruity with how the UNA has been set up. On one hand, remember that traditionally, the limits of the UNA’s jurisdiction directly mirror the borders between the Neighbourhood and Academic land designations, an obvious and sensible practice. On the other, it’s outlined above that “the UNA has always anticipated to represent all residents on campus that were not living in student academic housing.

By building private residential buildings on Academic land, UBC has made it so that residents who should be part of the UNA will not be part of the UNA because they are located outside of its traditional borders. To satisfy the UNA, who still believe they should represent all non-student residents on campus, C+CP has taken the approach that two wrongs will make a right. They are asking the UNA to join them in not following the rules, dissolving the traditional limits of their jurisdiction by annexing those buildings and extending the UNA’s reach onto Academic land.

Paying off the UNA

To sweeten the pot for the UNA, the proposal also included this arrangement: UBC will collect the Services Levy (that thing that approximates property taxes) from people living in the precinct and will give 100% of that money to the UNA. However, at the same time UBC will also assume full responsibility for providing all municipal-like services to those residents. As UNA chair Richard Alexander summed it up at the May UNA Board meeting, “We’re getting the money, but we’re not spending it on municipal services.”

Providing municipal-like services to residents is the UNA’s raison d’être, and providing those services is the basis for why the Services Levy needs to be collected. In this case, UBC is giving the UNA money for nothing. Free money is always a great way of getting buy-in.

Shit UBC Says

The document provided to the UNA Board in May outlining the governance proposal also stated: There is no market housing contemplated for the precinct.

Clear, unambiguous. No market housing contemplated.

The next month, a document was provided to UBC’s Board of Governors outlining the university’s plans for the precinct. For one of the sites in the area, where the now-demolished GSAB used to be, here are the options presented to the Board:

    Scenario 1 – Academic uses across the site. Maximum height of a six storey
    building fronting University Boulevard and an eight storey building fronting
    Wesbrook Mall. 

    Scenario 2 – Mixed use, with a six storey academic building fronting University
    Boulevard and up to an eight storey building with university rental housing or
    market rental housing fronting Wesbrook Mall.

    Scenario 3Same as Scenario 2, but allowing the rental housing building to
    increase in height up to twelve storeys.

    [emphasis added]

So then.  Market housing is being contemplated after all.

While the UNA is being told market housing is absolutely not on the table, less than a month later the Board is being told that yes, actually, it absolutely is. This is not a mistake or an inadvertent slip. It is framed as university housing OR market housing – it’s clear that whoever wrote this understands that there is a distinction between those two types of housing, and still included market housing as something under consideration.

UBC straight up lied to the UNA and is exploring a plan they said would not be on the table. This is also a plan that no one was told about during a months-long public consultation on the area preceding this report.


C+CP’s penchant for playing fast and loose with development rules is what has led to the revision of the Neighbours Agreement passed by the UNA Board (via email because they couldn’t get quorum). In formulating the plan and pushing it forward, UBC has lied to the UNA and promised them free money to gain their cooperation in a plan that would allow for the quiet expansion of private housing on campus, going against all the plans that are on the books.

It’s enough to make you wonder whether UBC has a governance problem.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.

Please vote for us in the Continuous VoterMedia Contest