Harold Long says Courtenay has outgrown small town thinking, should plan for sea level rise, calls a subdivision at Stotan Falls a ‘bad idea’ and wants to densify the urban core to preserve downtown businesses. And he’s disappointed in incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula
Harold Long, a three-term Courtenay council member in the 1980s, will launch a return to city politics this week, this time in a run for the mayor’s chair.
Long, who was born and raised on 21st Street, was first elected to City Council in 1984. He ran for mayor in 1990, losing to Ron Webber by only 25 votes.
He’s stayed out of the political scene since then because he didn’t want “to be a heckler from the sidelines.”
But Long is jumping back in now because he is disappointed in the city’s lack of a long-term vision and particularly in the performance of incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula, who he believes has alienated the council and failed to bring them together.
“I think, in general, it’s time for the city to think outside of the box,” he told Decafnation. “We’ve outgrown small town thinking.”
Long spent most of his career as a plumber and pipefitter, working on many of the Comox Valley’s major infrastructure projects, such as the Brent Road sewage treatment plant, the sports centre, Driftwood mall and a renovation of St. Joseph’s General Hospital.
He’s probably best known recently as a land developer. His biggest project was the Valley View subdivision that essentially created East Courtenay.
Asked if voters might wonder if he has a conflict of interest, Long says he has no big projects planned and hasn’t done any developing in Courtenay for eight years. All the property he owns in the city is his house and five acres near Glacier View Lodge.
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And for someone who might get stereotyped as a conservative — Long is a fiscal conservative — he talks about many progressive ideas.
Long favors densification of the urban core, says the city should be planning for sea level rise and moving infrastructure inland, believes the Stotan Falls area is a bad place to put a subdivision, wants to upgrade sewage treatment facilities to produce effluent that can be reused and opposes dumping wastewater into any body of water.
He also believes Courtenay residents “won’t stand for more tax increases” and should look more closely at ways to reduce costs. At the same time, Long thinks the city hasn’t spent enough on maintaining its important infrastructure, such as the Fifth Street bridge.
Long worries that middle income families, as well as young people, have been priced out of Courtenay’s housing market.
“To get ahead, people have to own it (their property),” he says. “Equity is everything.”
So he supports smaller houses on small lots, removing obstacles that prevent developments targeting lower-priced houses and requiring new developments to have a mix of varying priced homes.
Long knows the city has lost several affordable housing projects because the bureaucratic tangle was overwhelming.
“If we don’t work on a long-term housing plan for both availability and affordability, I’m afraid of where we’re headed,” he said. “The next generation of seniors will be much poorer, their pensions eaten up by rent or mortgages.”
He supports allowing secondary suites, especially around the downtown core.
“The only way to preserve our downtown is to put people on the street,” he said. “Not just during the day, but 16 hours a day. Retail is a tough business and it’s more important than the development community.”
On the environment
Long recognizes that “a lot of environmentally sensitive people” live in Courtenay, and more are moving here because of its natural assets.
“This wasn’t an issue when I was a kid, but it’s vital now,” he said.
Long will lead council to do more planning for the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.
“That’s (rising sea levels) a big issue with the sewer line along Dyke Road; it should be on land where we have the opportunity to clean up any potential spill,” he said. “It’s going to be expensive, but necessary.”
He thinks the region should also rethink wastewater outfalls considering the thousands of homes proposed for the Royston-Union Bay area and the sensitivity of Baynes Sound.
“Technology has improved to the level where we don’t necessarily need outfalls,” he said. “We need to start looking at that. We can treat wastewater so it’s reusable, even drinkable.”
On Stotan Falls
Long doesn’t hesitate to call the 3L Developments proposed 540 house subdivision on the Puntledge and Browns rivers a “bad idea.”
“It’s sitting on rock, and everything drains toward the river,” he said. “It could be built to protect the rivers, but what happens if it fails?”
While he says Riverwood would not address the Valley’s affordable housing issues, Long also believes the regional district should open up more settlement nodes.
“There’s no significant available land in Courtenay,” he said. “90 percent of the land available is in Crown Isle.”
He said it’s too expensive for a developer to consider a 10 to 15 acre subdivision. To make it worthwhile these days, Long says a developer needs a minimum of 100-200 acres.
Long says council needs to think outside of the box on transportation. He doesn’t have a silver bullet, but says the city should consider ways to improve traffic flow while making long-term plans for things like another crossing.
He envisions a cloverleaf on the east side of the 17th Street bridge and making Fitzgerald Avenue a major route to move traffic off Cliffe Avenue.
On the Airpark
Long supports the Courtenay Airpark and the Kus-kus-sum projects, and dismisses suggestions that the land might be better used for housing. He says people don’t realize what’s under the Airpark property.
“There’s bits of concrete, a mixture of soils and general rubble down there that makes it totally unsuitable for development,” he said. “It’s partly fill from when we had to cover up the sewer lagoon, and it contains heavy metals.”
And what hasn’t been discussed is that the whole area is a First Nations midden, according to Long. In the late 1950s when the marina was being built, he remembers there were arrows and skulls and more turned up during the excavating.
“I don’t see this as developable land,” he said.
Long would like to promote the city to the technology sector and attract remote workers who can enjoy a higher quality of life here than in larger cities. It’s a clean industry that comes with high paying jobs, he says.
Long regards the legalization of marijuana as a federal issue that City Council cannot change or impact. However, he would create a special, site specific zone for marijuana retailers.
“I think we need to pay close attention to public opinion as we move forward on this one,” he said.
Full disclosure: My youngest son and Harold Long’s son have been long-time friends, but this interview was the only time he and I have talked one-on-one.