Rezoning of UBC's Acadia neighbourhood causes backlash
// Claire Vulliamy

Planned changes to one of UBC’s residential neighbourhoods, dating back to a Land Use Plan from March 2011, have evoked concerns from residents about the future of their community. In the Land Use Plan, a large portion of the Acadia neighbourhood on campus, which is currently student family housing, is designated to become "non-academic". Essentially, this changes it to market housing, open to anyone who can afford it.

Ashley Zarbatany has lived in Student Family Housing at UBC in the Acadia Park neighbourhood since 2009. She used to live in the Acadia Courts, a group of buildings in the neighbourhood, but had to leave when the roof collapsed and she and her family were exposed to asbestos. Zarbatany relocated to a townhouse, where she pays around $1,300 a month for a two-bedroom suite. “I love the townhouse, but it's so expensive for a student,” she says.

Sections of the Courts are now being taken down. Though they were originally meant to be 15-year temporary housing, they have been home to students for approximately 40, she says. The residents were given their notice of eviction last year.

Lisa Colby, the Director of Policy Planning for Campus and Community Planning, says that, “all eligible residents will be provided alternative housing options within Acadia Park by July 1, 2012." This is of concern to Zarbatany: “Who are they qualifying as "eligible" students?” she asks. “There are still many students who have not been given placing, and this is a serious concern, as many of them are not yet finished their degrees.”

These events led her to dig up the March 2011 Land Use Plan. A section of the plan explicitly designates specific areas of housing on campus for different purposes. Acadia Park is defined as providing “a range of rental and long-term lease housing to the broader community.”

Lisa Colby, the Director of Policy Planning for Campus and Community Planning confirms this: “A portion of the area that is currently student family housing will become a non-student family neighbourhood, creating a complete community with a variety of residents.”

Zarbatany doesn’t feel that this kind of community will work, when there are people who “paid over $600,000 for a condo or townhouse, to be situated beside student families who are being crammed into these small high-rises, who are paying much less,” she says. “I just don’t really see how that would foster a healthy community dynamic.”

Colby says the reason why they have chosen to develop Acadia this way is because it is a low-density area, and many of the buildings are older. “Over the next 30 years, it’s an ideal opportunity to renew and redevelop the neighbourhood at higher, more appropriate sustainable densities.” According to Colby, there will eventually be more student family housing in Acadia offered at student family rates.

She adds that the reason why the information on Acadia for the public is not developed is because they haven’t begun the actual planning process. “Before any development takes place in Acadia, a Neighbourhood Plan for the local area will be undertaken.” According to Colby, the planning process will take place later this year, or at the beginning of 2013, and will provide “numerous opportunities for stakeholder and community [to offer] input into the planning process.”

As for the release of the Land Use Plan in March 2011, Zarbatany says, “students were not properly consulted or engaged in this process. This change was not advertised widely and many students were upset to learn about it after the zoning had already taken place.” Her main concern is that when they rezone to non-academic, “they essentially guarantee that the housing market will determine the price of housing.”

Residents of Acadia who were concerned about the changes attended a workshop on the recently released Housing Action Plan (HAP), which took place on Mar. 29. The HAP was created as “a policy initiative to increase housing choice and affordability on the Vancouver campus for faculty, staff and students.”

Zarbatany found the information at the workshop lacking, especially when it came to providing solutions for students. “They seemed to be focusing more on faculty and staff housing shortages and how to develop that.”

What they did offer for students was that the University would work with the students’ society of UBC, the AMS, “to lobby the provincial government to increase our student loan so that we could receive more for our rental allowances per month,” she says. “Instead of solving the affordability issue, they’re saying that they’re going to make it so that we get more debt, which makes no sense.”

Zarbatany is also concerned changes to Acadia will compromise its suitability for families. “Something that makes Acadia so wonderful now is the green spaces … We have a lot of space here for the children so they often go out and play on the street, on the car-less roadways that we have,” she says.

According to Colby, green space will be discussed in the planning process, and the University is “committed to providing ample and appropriate green space and amenities to all its neighbourhoods.”

“Once the density is higher there will not be much that you can do to increase green space,” says Zarbatany. “All of the important decisions will have been decided before the neighborhood plan is even undertaken. … The neighbourhood planning process is meaningless unless it has control over rezoning."

"Affordable student family housing has a definitive impact on many students decisions to attend this school,” says Zarbatany. “We don't want to see student family's needs be prioritized last after real estate developers interests.”

//Claire Vulliamy, arts editor

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com