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UBC: University Endowment Lands residents push for democracy

Community adjacent to UBC run directly by provincial government

When Ronald Pears moved to the University Endowment Lands 25 years ago, it was by his estimate 65 per cent single-family residential, with a stable population of about 2,200 people. It was like living in the country, while only 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver.

The UEL’s population now sits at about 4,150 residents and there are more multi-family than single-family properties. With new potential development on the horizon, Pears, president of the UEL’s community advisory council, thinks the unincorporated community should become a municipality.

“Everybody that manages the UEL lives somewhere else — Victoria or North Vancouver or God knows where. So we’re frustrated by that,” Pears said.

“The main reason [we want to incorporate] is we don’t have democracy here. We have no representative government.

The advisory council can only advise and it’s very weak. It has a real problem having an effect. So there’s no government. All we have is administration…”

The unincorporated lands are managed by the provincial government’s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development headed by Minister Coralee Oakes through a small administration office on the lands.

The UEL is located between the City of Vancouver and UBC and includes old single-family homes — some dating back to the 1920s, some multiple-family and commercial developments, as well as Pacific Spirit Regional Park and Block F — a 22-acre site owned by the Musqueam Indian Band, which is proposed for development. (The Musqueam own three other parcels: University Golf Course, and two undeveloped sites. Only Block F is currently being planned for development.)

The UEL is not associated with UBC or its developments.

The advisory council, which formed in 2007, has seven members who are elected every three years at the same time as municipal elections.

It advises the UEL manager on matters that “may have a significant effect on the cost, quality or capacity of community services in the UEL.”

Last November, the council applied to the provincial government for approval to do a study, which, depending on results, could lead to a referendum on incorporation.

With its application, the advisory council submitted letters from Metro Vancouver and the City of Vancouver indicating those bodies don’t object to a study. UBC said it wouldn’t comment on the matter.

Almost two decades ago, in 1995, a referendum asking residents if they were in favour of becoming a municipality failed. Only 917 of 2,750 eligible voters cast ballots — 599 voted no, while 318 voted yes.

“It failed for two reasons,” according to Pears. “One was there was an awful lot of longtime residents here who said it’s worked so far, we don’t want to change it, notwithstanding the fact that some of us, including me said, well yeah, things are going to change, which they have to our detriment.”

Another factor was Hampton Place residents, UBC’s first residential development, were included in the vote and “they thought they’d get stuck paying for our old infrastructure,” Pears said. [Hampton Place is no longer included in the UEL].

In recent months, the advisory council has held town hall meetings, during which the subject of incorporation was discussed, and two straw votes, in which the majority supported incorporation.

Pears, who noted taxes in the UEL are lower than in Vancouver, doesn’t believe they would go up with incorporation unless residents decided to add services or build something like a community centre.

A study on incorporation would look at issues such as taxation, structure and transitioning to a municipality.