Recently named BC’s most resilient economy by BC Business Magazine and being one of the province’s fastest growing cities Langford could be BC’s next big thing. This week Cory and Matt welcome Mayor Stewart Young of Langford to discuss all the amazing developments happening throughout the city, new major tenant announcements and so much more. Mayor Young tells us the story of how Langford landed Costco, followed by Home Depot and now Tesla Motors. The mayor’s vision for Langford has been decades in the making and has been thrust to the forefront the past few years with the incredible growth of his community. From a booming downtown core boasting 3 lakes to a beautiful 6,000 seat outdoor sports and concert venue. Langford seems to offer something for everyone.
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Who is Stewart Young?
I was born and raised in Langford; our family has been here for over 85 years. I’ve been the Mayor of Langford for 30 years. My goal was to transition Langford into a business-oriented municipality and work with the development community to invest in Langford.
We have the best sports amenities, low taxes and housing at every option in Langford. We’re doing well, despite the fact that we’re in the middle of covid. It’s a young family community and people want to move here. There’s a lot of energy and excitement in Langford. It’s a vibrant community and we’re looking forward to the future.
You’ve been the mayor for 7 consecutive terms and have seen the transition of Langford. How has Langford changed?
We started with a pretty bad situation when it comes to taxation in Langford. People would raise their families here and then their kids would have to leave because there were no jobs. We knew we needed to increase our tax base commercially and business-wise. We also brought in sewers to help manage our land-base. We improved our infrastructure, basically replacing everything in the last 30 years. We used to not have traffic lights, sidewalks or bike lanes. We’re doing a lot of change as development occurs. And that development pays for our improvements.
We’re very fast at rezoning in Langford. It’s a three month rezoning process and 48 hours to get a building permit. We roll out the red carpet for people who want to build senior housing and affordable housing. And everything in Langford is more affordable than Victoria or Vancouver anyway, which attracts young families. That’s why Langford is growing.
We’re doing a lot of improvements to our community to make it more desirable. We’re adding parks, trails, sports facilities, and more. As the community grows, we grow our parks, recreation and business community. We’re hoping to get a university soon so people can raise their kids here, their kids can go to university here, and they’ll have jobs in Langford when they graduate. Royal Roads has bought the land so we’re just going through the process now.
We have a lot of dialogue with the residents of Langford and there’s a lot of support for what we’ve done. People want this change. We’re attracting a lot of big businesses too. These companies like the liveability in Langford. We just did a groundbreaking for Tesla. Every day there’s something new going on; it’s exciting here in Langford.
We roll out the red carpet for businesses because we know businesses create jobs and businesses pay higher taxes. When I grew up, all of my family moved away when they finished high school. But now we’re in a position to give our kids a better life. We need to get our kids educated and give them better job opportunities, which is why we’re so excited about the university.
What has contributed to the success of Langford?
Cooperation is the most important thing. You have to know what the needs of your community are and you have to make tough decisions. We don’t defer things – we vote yes or no and we move on. You don’t have to wait two or three years for a decision from the city council.
We treat businesses with respect because we want the jobs and we want the tax base. We don’t want our government to slow down that development process. We want every business here to be successful and excited about Langford. They are part of our community. We are very involved in our business community.
The relationships are key. When people want to invest in Langford, those are relationships I want to invest in. That’s how we were able to bring in Costco, Home Depot and other big box stores, as well as revitalize our downtown core. We have a great community plan thanks to our incredible planner, Avi Friedman.
We hire professionals; it’s not just a bunch of politicians sitting around who have never owned a business before making decisions. We look at factual information and best practices from around the world. We take guidance from professionals who have been there and we know we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
It’s exciting to see new restaurants, new parks and new schools making Langford a vibrant place. It took time to go from “dog patch” to where we are today. We’re now in a place where we need more people to fill all of the jobs, which is exciting considering where we used to be. When the recession hit in 2009, we waived all our fees for permits and told developers we’d help them because we wanted to keep our people working.
Why is Langford so unique in its approach to growth?
Municipalities only get money from housing. So we have to be smart about how we’re spending our money and not waste our money on areas other levels of government spend on. I pick up the paper every day, see what other municipalities are spending on and say, “I would never waste the taxpayers’ money on that.”
Municipalities have to be held responsible for the taxation of the house. Housing taxation shouldn’t pay for things that your income tax is supposed to pay for. I make sure we run the city as a business, which is why we’ve been able to keep taxes so low.
When I was first elected in 1992, everyone thought developers were bad. But I realized developers create houses, jobs, infrastructure, etc. I knew we needed to treat them like partners so I changed the rhetoric. If I can speed up the approval process and it’s a defined and easy to understand process, development thrives. Developers don’t want to spend $50 million on a project while waiting years for approval from politicians who know nothing about business.
The benefit of investment in a community is huge. Without that, your community becomes stagnant. You want to make sure there are resources for families and jobs available. That’s why we treat the development community like partners – they invest in our city. We try to be innovative and help out in areas outside of Langford too, like raising money for causes in Haiti and Afghanistan.
What do you envision for downtown Langford?
We knew 20-30 years ago that we had the land base to house 60% of the population of the south shore of Vancouver Island, so the pressure to create housing has always been there. We knew we would need to transition people to towers and build up in order to meet housing demands. Working with Avi Friedman and our planning staff, we designated corridors where towers could go. We now have six or seven towers approved in the last few months.
You’re going to see a new modern city in downtown Langford. We want to create these affordable units so we’ve created an attainable housing program in partnership with the developers to help get people into these homes. We have 1700 people on a waitlist for one or two bedroom condos through this attainable housing program. We want to help these young people get into home ownership and gain some equity.
Stand alone houses just aren’t attainable anymore. So we’re getting the municipality to help, with contributions from the development community, to use our attainable housing fund to help people get into condos. We’ve built 180% of our housing needs compared to other municipalities. Other municipalities are not doing their part in our affordable housing crisis.
Governments can’t tax their way out of our current housing problem. Municipalities at our level need to provide the supply, get rid of the red tape and actually tackle the problem. We need to make things happen.
What will job opportunities in Langford look like in 3-5 years?
You’ll see more tech jobs coming into Langford in the next 3-5 years. We just approved a 200 acre business park in partnership with the First Nations community and other municipalities. That will have units in it within the next few months and it will provide 2000-3000 new jobs. We’re planning for the future so we can have more land available, making it more enticing for businesses.
The provincial government has created some offices in Langford that people can work from. We’d love to bring more government offices to Langford so people don’t have to drive through traffic into Victoria and pay for parking. We have free parking for everyone in Langford; I put that policy in 30 years ago and it has never changed. We have 1000 parking spaces in our downtown core that are free and we’ll continue to provide that.
We’ve gone from a population of 12,000 people to 50,000 people and probably a 1500% increase in businesses over the last 30 years. It’s been a good story for Langford. I live here with my family and I would never move. I’m very proud to be the Mayor of Langford.
What do municipalities get wrong? What advice do you have for other municipalities in BC?
Many municipalities have a lot of layers of red tape and bureaucracy. I try to remove that red tape because I like to move quickly and I don’t like wasting time. This job is enjoyable when things go right and you’re seeing improvements. I’m not sure how other politicians go to work every day watching their infrastructure crumble.
I advise other municipalities to roll out the red carpet for businesses because those are the jobs and growth your community needs. You also need to make sure your housing supply isn’t bogged down with red tape. You can approve something in less than three months and have houses sold within a year. I can’t believe developers in Vancouver are waiting five years to go through the approval process.
What will growth in Langford look like in the next 5-10 years?
We’ll be seeing more of the same growth in Langford going forward. When you’re building towers and a new modern city, there’s a lot of excitement. That’s important to a downtown core. There’s a lot of demand for housing right now.
I see a vibrant downtown core with restaurants at the bottom of the towers we’re building. There will be daycares and other facilities. It will be a vibrant community but a safe community too. We’re not scared to spend the money on policing to keep our community safe.
Find out more call 250-478-7882 or visit https://www.langford.ca/