Thursday, July 31, 2014
Last updated: 3 days ago

Endowment Lands residents hoping to plant new city next to UBC

Photo Valerie Wyns/The Ubyssey

Photo Valerie Wyns/The Ubyssey

If you’re on UBC campus, the closest city is Vancouver, right? Well, that might not be true for much longer.

The University Endowment Lands — a patch of provincially run land on Point Grey, dotted with high-priced houses — might soon become its own mini-city. The approximately 4,000 people who live on that land, which isn’t part of UBC or the City of Vancouver, are frustrated they don’t have any elected civic representation.

The issue of who has control over land west of Blanca is fairly complicated. As it stands right now, the part controlled by UBC — which includes all the university-related buildings, and “University Town” neighbourhoods like Wesbrook Place — isn’t part of any other city and has no local government. Any decisions about what happens there are made by the university. The Endowment Lands, on the other hand — which covers all those older homes in the neighbourhoods east of Wesbrook Mall — are run directly by the provincial government, and they don’t have any local representation either.

The Community Advisory Council for the Endowment Lands, which hardly has any power right now but acts as the voice of people living there, voted at a December meeting to take the first steps to incorporate the area as its own municipality. This would wrest control of municipal services away from the provincial government.

“The Endowment Lands are managed by outsiders. The problem is there’s nobody looking after the people. There’s nobody paying attention to what the community needs,” said Council chair Ron Pears. “The people in Victoria don’t care. It’s not their job.”

According to Pears, this has been a long time coming. “It’s kind of a perennial subject,” he said.

The Endowment Lands have tried to incorporate before, and in 1995 a vote was held on the subject. Endowment Lands residents were strongly in favour, but that vote also included the then-new campus neighbourhood of Hampton Place, which voted against incorporation.

Pears said that the Hampton Place residents likely opposed incorporation because they were afraid their municipal taxes would go toward infrastructure improvements in the much-older Endowment Lands areas. But this time, Endowment Lands residents plan to leave UBC land out of the hoped-for new city.

“The people living on the land leased from UBC have a very messy situation. They’ll probably have to live with whatever they’ve got,” said Pears.

The council has only just started taking the first steps toward incorporation; they need to survey all residents and conduct a feasibility study before the plan can become a reality. According to Pears, it could take up to two years for all of this to happen. Once they have everything in place, they’ll need permission from the provincial government to incorporate.

The province’s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, which would be in charge of approving the change, hasn’t taken any position on the issue yet. They say they’ll wait until they see evidence of community consensus before they approve any changes.

Pears expects residents to support the change, and he doesn’t anticipate any hurdles from the province. “If we make a good pitch for it, and the citizenry really do want it, there’s no reason for them to stand in the way,” he said.

When asked about the possible option of joining the City of Vancouver instead, Pears said the option is off the table. “They [aren't] looking to absorb us,” he said.

What happens to the University Endowment Lands will probably have some effect on UBC, not to mention the thousands of people who still live on university-controlled land without any civic representation. However, what that effect will be remains to be seen.

Richard Alexander, chair of the University Neighbourhoods Association, which represents the residential housing on UBC land, said that so far, the association has no position on the Endowment Lands plan. “It’s all a bit premature for us,” Alexander said. “We’ll just wait and see how things turn out.”