Tuesday May 11, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated May 12, 2021 at 11 am & 1:55 pm]
by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends
Under sunny mid-morning skies with a backdrop of busy day-time traffic, Langford Mayor Stew Young and Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) CEO Larry Stevenson today addressed local media about an exciting new city core community development project to revitalize a long city block of Station Avenue from Veterans Memorial Parkway (VMP) over to Peatt Road.
The E&N rail line alongside the targeted undeveloped area along Station Road has long sat unused by trains; debate has dragged on for decades as to reinstating active train service.
But there’s still a simple train station structure poking its head up from the streetscape at the entry to the upcoming community use area off Veterans Memorial Parkway. It sits as a reminder of the enduring long-term goal to restore rail transportation to the 225 km route that runs from Victoria, through Langford, up the east side of the island to Courtenay.
$1 million development fund:
Following a motion passed at Langford Council last night, The City now holds a 30-year lease with the ICF through a collaboration between the two parties. The revitalization project is being funded by the City of Langford using $1 million in Gas Tax Funds as received via the Union of BC Municipalities (Gas Tax funds are received annually by each municipality in BC, on a sliding scale based on population and other factors).
That’s actually not an overly large budget for all that needs to be done including servicing with sewer and electrical, procuring and setting up the small container units for business and artisan use, setting up the dog park, procuring and installing the picnic tables and seating, installing lighting, preparing a gravel walkway, installing some artificial turf, and so on. The project will be managed in-house by city staff, said Young.
Pivoting from recreation to arts & culture:
“Working collaboratively, this project will reinvigorate the area and complement all that we already have in place,” said Mayor Stew Young. He explained that the City of Langford Council is turning their attention to arts and culture, after several years focusing on the expansion of recreational and sporting opportunities (including the YM/YWCA, Starlight Stadium — formerly Westhills Stadium, City Center Park, Jordie Lunn Bike Park, and co-investment in amenities at West Shore Parks & Recreation, among others).
In his remarks to the small gathering, Mayor Young highlighted the cooperation that is key to getting things done in Langford. He is pleased that the Station Avenue cultural precinct (using some urban planning lingo) will be accessible year-round.
Business & affordable housing:
As well as providing a go-to location for residents and tourists, Young feels that the area will encourage people to invest in Langford. He says the project will provide opportunities for incubator businesses for young entrepreneurs taking a first step before committing to ‘brick and mortar’ commercial leasing.
From the podium he also highlighted the city’s 24 years of dedicated attention to developing affordable housing (which in recent years has included several rental apartment buildings and legalized secondary suites, well ahead of other municipalities who have struggled with zoning issues and red tape over the years in ways that saw little development of rental units for decades).
Later on, he explained to media that continued condo development will happen near the Station Avenue corridor, so that residents can continue to find affordable home ownership opportunities.
COVID economic recovery:
Mayor Young says “finding these little jewels in our community” will be part of the ongoing success of the new cultural destination. “This is an important relationship now, that we’re nurturing,” he said, regarding alignment with the Island Corridor Foundation, but that dovetails with all the others businesses whose paths will be intertwined as well.
“Businesses are fragile right now and staying afloat the best they can,” said Mayor Young, referring to the financial struggles resulting from public health restrictions during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic (now in its 15th month). This new area of the Langford commercial-residential core will help businesses with COVID economic recovery, he told media today.
Jazzing up a tired space:
The new urban casual outdoor destination is “what we had envisioned”, says Mayor Young, which comes at the right time when there are more people in the downtown area. “After 30 years of looking at this site,” said Young, who grew up in Langford and has been mayor since 1992, he is more than ready to see it visually and functionally improved. The stretch is unpaved, undeveloped, requiring clearing of invasive species, and sometimes allows for vagrants and crime along the stretch of trail along the rail bed at night. It’s been something of an eyesore and problematic in other social ways. Now it’s finding the light.
The formalized parking and dog activity area will be completed as Phase 1 in Fall 2021; both parking and dog area will be available for use free of charge. Other features will be rolled out as Phase 2 in Spring 2022.
Once complete, the project will dramatically transform the area into a vibrant cultural hub that celebrates local First Nations, showcases Langford’s evolving cultural identity, celebrates the area’s history, and creates ‘incubator’ opportunities for small businesses and artisans. Food trucks (with unique offerings not represented in Langford’s restaurants), bike racks, public art and other amenities will be incorporated.
In urban planning lingo, this type of development is known as a ‘cultural precinct’, an area that takes on its own character organically through participation by the community, interfacing with well-planned and strategically placed amenities and offerings. “This is about the future and where we’re going here (in this part of town),” said Mayor Young. He wants the area to remain vibrant for years after it’s set up, to see it grow and change along with the community.
Excited for many towns along the rail line: “This project reflects the Foundation’s mission perfectly,” said Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) CEO Larry Stevenson. He was enthusiastic today about what he described as a genuinely special opportunity to enhance the community, by turning the land into a “beneficial and vibrant community asset”.
Stevenson insists that trains are still going to be the focus going forward, to which Mayor Young concurs. In fact, Stew Young envisions use of rail for transporting goods as well as passengers, which would minimize the load of trucks on the Malahat and toward up-island.
Stevenson is excited about the leadership that the Langford railside project sets, with other communities then being able to see in real-time what can be done. The railbed could serve communities from Victoria through the Cowichan Valley to Nanaimo, Courtenay-Comox, and Alberni-Calyoquot.
The ICF CEO who’s been in the job for about two years didn’t want to say just how many of these railside economic hubs would be developed; things are moving along as communities become interested.
Seaton’s passion for trains:
Also taking part in the ceremonial ground-breaking event today was Langford Councillor Lanny Seaton, who picked up a shovel along with Young and Stevenson for the three-way ceremonial sod-turning.
Seaton not only has a passion for trains (including an extensive miniature train setup in his own backyard), but as the city’s Parks, Recreation, Culture and Beautification Committee Chair he has worked alongside Mayor Young for over 25 years to continue building-out the recreational aspects of parks and trails.
While this new cultural development announcement was happening outdoors in Langford this morning, the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca — Premier John Horgan — was leading the business of the province, doing a live media session on provincial political matters. In a news release from the City, Horgan was quoted as calling the Station Avenue corridor project an exciting one, allowing people to take advantage of the arts, culture and recreation opportunities that the community has to offer.
The Premier’s wife, Ellie Horgan, informally attended today’s event for a short while, out and about taking the family dog for a walk.
Due to COVID, not even other members of city council, city staff or other leaders were present at the event. Held outdoors, there was still only so much room in the event area, to be working within physical distancing protocols.
As such, the general community was not formally invited, relying (as in days of olde) on media reporting to spread the word. In the digital age, news reporting is easily found, including in social media.
Nonetheless, a few members of the public somehow heard about the announcement and showed up to hear the brief presentations.
During the ongoing COVID pandemic, attention was paid to physical distancing and everyone wore masks (other than when speaking at the podium, well-distanced from other people).
Artisans and small business operators who are interested in learning how to get involved with the Station Avenue Revitalization Project may contact the city’s manager of business development Donna Petrie by email or phone 250-391-3403.
Petrie and senior staff did a lot of work to launch this project; she and others will be managing the project rollout in-house.
As the COVID pandemic eases up there will be more public announcements about Phase 1 (Fall 2021) and Phase 2 (Spring 2022) as they become ready, where all can attend, it was confirmed by the City.
COVID limits: [Update on May 12, 2021]
The May 11 media event to announce the Station Avenue Revitalization Project was approved by Island Health for only 10 participants plus the two bylaw officers. “If we could have had an open public event we absolutely would have,” said Donna Petrie on May 12. “We decided to go ahead with a smaller number as it was better than doing nothing at all.”
City events have to comply with provincial health orders.