On November 6th, Quest University held a rare public information hearing regarding a subdivision proposal to divide Quest’s remaining 70 acres of land into three parcels. The hearing came about after a group of concerned students requested information about the proposal through the District of Squamish website. Quest filed the proposal with the District earlier this year.
In the public hearing, Quest’s President George Iwama stated that the reason for the subdivision was to monetize Quest’s land, in accordance with one of three recommendations made this September by the Degree Quality Assessment Board. According to Iwama, subdividing Quest’s land is “a necessary, and preferable, first step in future monetization of university lands.”
Iwama stated that, according to DQAB estimates, Quest’s remaining 70 acres of land could be valued at upwards of $80 million—enough to offset the $20 million loan Quest currently holds, which comes due in 2019.
The purpose of the application, Iwama said at the hearing, is to prepare sections of Quest’s land for future development. However, he added that Quest currently has no development plans for any of the land being subdivided.
“Any further development of these parcels of land would, of course, require approval from our staff and students here,” Iwama added.
The subdivision meeting was attended by upwards of thirty people, including students, staff, and people from the neighborhoods around Quest. Iwama officiated the meeting, alongside Bryan Daly, a subdivision coordinator for the District of Squamish; Caroline Lamont, the Land Development coordinator of Bethel Land Corporation; and David Fujimagari, a member of Quest’s Board of Governors who also serves as chair on Quest’s Finance and audit committee. Fujimagari is also the Chief Financial Officer of Bethel Land Corporation, and it was from this role that he said he was attending the meeting.
Iwama said the two Bethel employees had been assisting Quest with the subdivision application. Bethel Land Corporation built and owns Swift Creek, Riverside, and Red Tusk and Ossa. Quest still owns the land beneath Red Tusk and Ossa, but will not own the buildings for another 20 years. The President of Bethel Land Corporation, Michael Hutchinson, joined a Quest’s Board in May 2017. He also serves with board members David Fujimagari and Claude Rinfret on the Finance and Audit committee.
At the fireside chat preceding the public hearing, a student asked Iwama about conflict of interest on the Board. Iwama acknowledged the potential, calling it a “situation that’s not deniable”. However, he assured students that he had spoken with Hutchinson about the potential conflict.
“I believe Michael and his company have the best interests of this community at heart,” Iwama said at the fireside chat. “They have a lot to lose in terms of not acting in an ethical manner.”
When asked again about the potential conflict of interest at the public hearing, Iwama stated that no members of Bethel are being compensated for their work on the project.
One student asked Fujimagari how he negotiates his two roles as Quest board member and CFO of Bethel—specifically, what he would do if Bethel decides to bid on development projects on Quest’s land.
Fujimagari said that he and Hutchinson agree to leave the room for any votes or discussion of land deals.
However, Fujimagari did not shy away from the possibility of working with Bethel on future development projects. “We’re not trying to take land from the university, we’d actually like the university to keep their land if possible,” he said. “Would we participate [in the development]? Possibly, it depends on what it is.”