On a street bench under a leafy tree on Goldstream Avenue, Francina Frehlick is pondering the lightning-speed growth and change in Langford.
In the eight years she’s lived in the city, the 78-year-old has seen roads filling with traffic, new highrises sprouting on every corner and huge swaths of trees falling on the surrounding hills.
“When I first moved here, Langford was growing at a steady pace. There was more shopping and that was good,” says Frehlick, who lives with her daughter in Westhills. “But now the growth is all over. There’s no structure.”
She says Mayor Stew Young is “giving out [development] permits everywhere, and he can’t continue what he’s doing without consequences. Just look at the traffic. It’s astronomical.
“Maybe it’s time to give other, younger people a chance.”
Young has served seven terms as mayor and 30 years on Langford council. His challenger, Scott Goodmanson is a Langford native and passionate about change, but not well known, and he lives and operates a business in Saanich.
What isn’t so certain is how Young’s Community First Langford slate of councillors — including four incumbents and two newcomers — will fare at the polls.
Young has enjoyed relative freedom to guide Langford through a three-decade building boom based on quick approvals for eager developers, with a majority of councillors supporting his decisions.
A new slate of would-be councillors under the Langford Now banner is hoping to tap the brakes a little. While they say they’re not opposed to development, they want to cast a more critical eye on the social and environmental impacts.
Whether that shows at the ballot box remains to be seen. Last election, only 18% of those eligible even cast ballots — well below the provincial average of 36%. The two previous votes, in 2011 and 2014, weren’t much better with turnouts of 13% and 21%, respectively.
Young captured 82% of the vote last time around. And all the incumbents who ran were re-elected, which is higher than the B.C. average of 81%.
Down the street from Frehlick, the mayor was noshing on a pile of ribs at a new business. He delivered a laminated business licence and cut a ribbon for Jones Bar-B-Que, saying it’s the type of economic development that has helped Langford grow and prosper.
“I heard about these ribs in downtown Victoria and I tried them — after that I told the owners you gotta come out to Langford and we made sure that happened,” said Young.
Jones co-owner Chris Jones said he’s now considering expanding his other Victoria restaurant business, Ruby’s, to Langford. “It’s where the growth is,” he said.
Jones, 41, a Langford native, was 11 when Young was first elected mayor and said his parents remain staunch supporters.
And that’s typical Stew Young, say his supporters — hands on, direct and the king of cutting red tape.
“Sh*t gets done in Langford,” says truck driver Bruce Mackros. He says he’s a fan of the current mayor and council. “They get permits through, without all the bureaucracy behind it.”
Young vows he will keep building Langford. “Slowing down is a huge mistake for local government,” he says. “Construction brings new people, jobs and businesses and it insulates us from economic downturns. It has in the past and it will again, because a downturn is coming.”
On the way to advance polls this past week with their grandson, Roy and Mary Baldwin were split on Young and the current council. “I don’t like him … it’s all going so fast around here,” says Mary Baldwin. She says she’s getting fed up with the congestion, hasty road planning and lack of parking, which is affecting seniors.
Roy Baldwin agreed, but says Young has done a lot for Langford while his challenger, Goodmanson, isn’t a resident “so doesn’t have skin in the game.”
Denise Blackwell, like Young, has served on Langford council since 1992, when the city was incorporated.
She’s running as an independent, along with incumbent Lillian Szpak and newcomer Wendy Hobbs. Szpak and Blackwell received the highest number of votes in the 2018 election, 72% and 70%, respectively.
Blackwell says she’s running one last time because she wants to see change around the council table, particularly voices that challenge Young’s authoritarian style in pushing developments through.
She’s supporting a lot of the Langford Now candidates, and says she would like to see a few of them elected so she can “act as a mentor” to some of the younger candidates with fresh ideas.
“All of these people are thinkers and they speak out,” says Blackwell. “Independent thought and speech doesn’t necessarily mean you’re against the mayor or city staff — it’s just speaking out.”
Blackwell says she’s been appalled over the past year at how Young and some councillors have berated her colleague, Szpak, on proposals and discussions around a council code of conduct and tree-protection bylaws.
“The people on council now often agree with the mayor,” says Blackwell. “I haven’t heard them speak out. And that’s not healthy.”
Young’s Community First Langford slate includes long-time councillors Lanny Seaton, Matt Sahlstrom and Roger Wade, along with incumbent Norma Stewart, running for a second term, and two new faces, Shirley Ackland, former mayor and councillor of Port McNeill, and Shannon Russell Willing, who runs Langford’s support for Ukrainian refugees.
Langford Now, meanwhile, which includes Colby Harder, Keith Yacucha, Kimberley Guiry, Mark Morley and Mary Wagner, is calling for a “sweeping change” in everything from transportation and recreation to affordability, sustainable development, environmental protections and transparent government.
Langford Now says development permits issued by council in the past 10 years had increased by 400%, to 1,670 units in 2021 from 336 in 2012 — significantly more than the 140% increase across the capital region.
The value of the building permits issued in Langford increased 680%, to $530 million in 2021, compared to just under a 200% increase across the capital region.
There’s no question that Langford is booming. It’s considered the fastest-growing community in the province — and third in Canada — as its population jumped 31.8% to 46,584 from 2016 to to 2021, according to national census data.
Guiry, a mother of two and Red Seal cabinet maker, says she stepped up to run as a Langford Now candidate to encourage development that is well-planned, invests in the community and is vetted by residents. She also stands for environmental considerations and a council that welcomes more community engagement.
“We want to give power back to the people so they can talk about the changes that are happening, so they are part of the decision-making process,” says Guiry.
She says residents are telling her things are happening too fast and infrastructure isn’t keeping up with development. “They’re telling us how they’re feeling the friction of living in Langford.”
Back on Goldstream Avenue, Jeff Lytle, a father of two and avid cyclist, says he’s happy with the way things are in Langford, which he’s called home since 2007.
“It’s the engine of the Island,” says Lytle. “It’s really can-do. Even through COVID, they kept things moving in Langford.”
Lytle says the density plan for Langford, with more highrises planned for the downtown core, is being done right compared with his previous home in North Vancouver, and amenities such as sports fields, parks and a university campus give residents value “without punitive increases in taxes.”
“I think we’re getting a bang for our buck,” he says.
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