Look at an aerial photograph of the University of Victoria, with its park-like campus perched above the blue waters of Cadboro Bay, and it’s easy to see why so many people see it as one of the jewels of the region.
Its physical beauty and vibrant intellectual life make it a magnet for residents who have never taken a course or cracked a book there. It’s a neighbour — and that’s why its plan to become a better neighbour is so welcome.
The university has produced Engaging With our Neighbours, a 33-page roadmap to make sure it consults effectively with the community when it envisions big projects.
The university took a beating last year over its plans to build a seven-storey parkade as part of the $75-million Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities, which includes athletic facilities, a 2,000-seat gym, a multi-purpose field house, a climbing tower, and office and lab space.
The parkade near the McKenzie Avenue entrance to the campus raised outrage from neighbours, who said it would be an eyesore and the tallest parkade in Saanich.
It took the university three tries to get approval from Saanich council because councillors said it didn’t consult enough with the community. The school hired consultants to help get public input, and the final project has three levels above ground and one below, making it half as tall as the original design.
The university leaders might have been a bit cocky, as their projects rarely stir a ripple of protest from outside campus. However, it’s clear that they have learned from the harsh parkade experience.
The new document is so thorough, it’s a bit intimidating, with charts and tables that spell out the processes.
At its base, the plan is an acknowledgment that the university’s projects affect the wider community, and the school has responsibility to take those plans to the public, if only for information.
It calls on the university to look closely at any projects and decide on the level of “engagement” based on the size and impact of the development. The three levels are: inform, consult and involve.
It ensures that the community will at least be informed about any project, and in many cases will get even more say in how they unfold. It lists 21 ways the university can engage the public, from phone calls and printed information to focus groups, workshops and open houses.
Its effectiveness still has to be put to the test, but with this document in hand, university officials, municipal councils and residents of Oak Bay and Saanich will understand what to expect and what they have to do the next time a project comes along.
The exhaustive framework shows the university has taken to heart the lessons of the parkade controversy. It has made a clear commitment to be a good neighbour.
© Copyright 2013