Outgoing Langley mayor discusses the city’s biggest hurdle
After three terms, Township Langley Mayor Jack Froese won’t be seeking re-election in October. He spoke to The Current about Langley’s rapid expansion during his decade in office, and how he believes managing the city's future growth will be the greatest challenge for the new council.
Langley Township might be the Fraser Valley’s second-largest municipality, but maintaining the city’s small-town charm will be the greatest challenge for the city’s new council come October, departing Mayor Jack Froese says.
Froese believes Langley’s biggest hurdle will be managing new growth.
“We are growing, but we still want to respect our rural feel,” Froese said. “And I think that’s the future, I think it’s really going to be a challenge for new councils to do that proper planning, keep the housing where housing should be, and maintain the rural areas.”
The Township’s population grew by nearly 30,000 over the last decade. Froese oversaw much of that change. But come this fall, the metaphorical chain of office will be passed along. During a recent council meeting, Froese announced that after serving three terms as mayor for the Township of Langley he won’t be seeking re-election in October.
Froese told The Current that he’s known for the last couple of years that he would ultimately make this decision.
“I always like to joke that mayors have a best before date; [the] trouble is that it’s planted on their forehead, and they can’t see themselves, [but] everybody else can see it,” Froese said. “So I didn’t want to find out when mine was.”
Since he took office nearly 11 years ago the Township has added more than 28,000 residents, a population roughly the size of Squamish. Subsequently the city experienced rapid development, particularly in the Willoughby neighbourhood.
“The Township of Langley is an extremely fast-growing municipality, and the growing pains that come with that growth are felt everywhere,” he said. “It’s a constant struggle to ensure that we have the infrastructure and services that people want.”
That struggle can be the difference between making decisions based on what voters want and what is possible. Froese cited an example from his time on the Mayors’ Council. Metro Vancouver voters were asked whether they approved a tax increase for transit expansion. Despite knowing the majority of Township residents were against the proposal, Froese said he campaigned in favour of it anyway because it provided sustainable funding.
“You don’t have to be shy about what you believe is the right thing to do. It may not go your way but people respect you for it because you stuck to your guns.”
Even though the proposed tax-hike was rejected by voters in 2015, years later, plans have been approved for a Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension anyway. The Langley terminal will be an access point for all eastern Fraser Valley residents to travel Metro Vancouver, and vice versa. It will change how people move through and make use of the Langleys.
Langley is a member of the Metro Vancouver Regional District, a relationship that played a role in the expansion of SkyTrain. Froese said he is pleased with the working relationship the Township has with Metro Vancouver today. But that wasn’t the case in 2012 during his first term. Froese met with Fraser Valley mayors to discuss whether the Township should leave Metro Vancouver and join the Fraser Valley Regional District.
At the time Froese believed Langley identified more with the rural communities.
“We went through a dispute with Metro Vancouver as soon as I got elected… and once that resolved I think both sides learned a lot from it,” he said about the decade-old quarrel. The Township put forward a plan to develop a university district on farmland that went against the district’s regional growth strategy. The Township eventually got its way. The BC Supreme Court ruled in its favour in 2014. But that wasn’t Froese’s proudest moment.
Froese is proudest of facilitating the development of the Aldergrove Credit Union Community Centre. When asked his biggest regret, he pointed to the lack of an arts centre—another project he was hopeful about completing. The biggest hurdle was funding.
“It’s not just building it, it’s operating it.”
Froese said he also learned his fair share of lessons from his time in municipal government. Votes on council aren’t always unanimous, and the motive behind council’s decision isn’t always clear.
“I think the biggest disappointment sometimes, I felt that, and maybe I’m guilty of this, too: you make decisions that are based on, okay, is this the right thing for the community, or is this the right thing for what I think is for me [and my career].”
But he won’t have to worry about those decisions come October.
After leaving office Froese has no plans to leave Langley, a place he’s called home for more than 40 years. He moved to the city from Abbotsford in the late 70s with his wife Debbie and their young kids. The couple purchased a chicken farm in North Otter and converted it into a turkey farm, known today as JD Farms Specialty Turkey. While his family helped on the farm, Froese worked as an officer with the Vancouver Police Department for 19 years, retiring in 2004. Froese was a newcomer to politics when he first ran for mayor in 2011, kicking off his first of eventually three terms as mayor.
“This was a service,” he said. “This isn’t a career, because I’ve had a career, I’ve got a business. This is public service, and I think public service is you let others take over and carry on.”