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The difference between Langford and North Saanich

The Ridge at Kettle Creek, Langford

In short, it's something called the Urban Containment Boundary.

In 1992, Langford was a sleepy community of a few farms, a handful of small businesses, a whole lot of forest and a gritty little racetrack. Later that year, the municipality of Langford was incorporated and its roughly 15,000 residents elected an energetic mayor who was dedicated to development. And so began a whole new story.

Since incorporation, the population of Langford has roughly tripled, and they have an extensive array of suburban amenities: multiple sports facilities, a 7-screen Cineplex, a bonanza of big box stores. At last count, there were 22 places to get fast food. And all these things count for something - a recent report named Langford the most "livable" community in the country (although these days, some residents would disagree).

The flip side of that is that Langford taxes are higher than ours in North Saanich, property values are lower and traffic is much worse. But many people are very happy to live there and many more move there every year, drawn to the amenities Langford has on offer.

Other people find other things in North Saanich.

It’s beautiful here.  There’s vast open spaces, and lots and lots of trees.  And beaches, parks, wooded trails, glorious views, great air, and – at least generally speaking – the relaxed geniality of a small farming town.  Which is what North Saanich has historically been. 

The farms in North Saanich are among the most productive on Vancouver Island and, with the right support, will become an important part of Island food security in years to come.

But these are just the perceptible difference between Langford and North Saanich. Look deeper, and you will find that the differences are ultimately based in the bone-dry language of municipal planning documents.

And it is there that we find a bit of planning arcana called the “Urban Containment Boundary.” Pay close attention. They call it the UCB. It’s a key part of the south Island’s Regional Growth Strategy.

The Urban Containment Boundary is just what it sounds like: a borderline, a land barrier that stands between the urban sprawl of places like Langford and, in the case of North Saanich, the rural countryside.

Think of it this way: Inside the UCB is where they keep the Burger Kings. Crops, cows, and a slower pace are all outside.

So, it's no surprise to hear that all of Langford is inside the Urban Containment Boundary. Or that all of North Saanich is outside. In a real sense, the UCB is what makes for the difference.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the boundary can move, putting at least part - and possibly all - of North Saanich inside the UCB, thereby literally paving the way for a little bit o' Langford right here. This unfortunate notion is now part and parcel of the draft development plan promulgated by the Vancouver-based consultants and the District's Planning Department. The development they propose cannot be built without moving the Urban Containment Boundary.

Keep in mind that once the Boundary moves into North Saanich, it can easily move - further in - again.

So you may well think that there are miles and miles between North Saanich and Langford, both literally and philosophically. But when Stew Young was elected mayor of Langford, it had a whole lot of forest. A year later, he was on the phone with the president of Costco, inviting him to build a warehouse.

Big changes come fast. Stay tuned.

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