Langford turfs artificial grass requirement

The expected cost savings have not been realized, and prices have risen substantially

Artificial turf has been used in new developments in Langford, to the chagrin of many residents. (📸 Zoë Ducklow)

For five years, Langford has required developers to use artificial turf in the sidewalk boulevards they built. The city also installed artificial grass in public medians and boulevards. The thinking at the time was that reduced maintenance needs would save money over time, even if the cost was higher.

Now, staff have reported to council that “anticipated savings have not been met.”

In 2017, when Langford council initially made this decision, artificial turf cost $65 more per meter to install than a metre of sod. Instead of requiring developers to install the more expensive product, council agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost—about $5,500 for an average boulevard—and take on maintenance duties sooner. Normally, developers pay the full cost of new boulevards in front of their projects, and maintain them until construction is complete.

At the time, staff reports show the city expected to save money over time despite paying for turf where they never had before.

But as it turns out, maintenance on artificial turf costs more than it does for natural sod, because it takes more than a simple mow.

Council voted unanimously on Monday night to rescind the requirement that new boulevards be covered with artificial turf. Existing turf will not be removed until it needs to be replaced, and new artificial turf is still allowed to be installed, but it’s no longer mandatory.

Maintenance and installation costs higher than expected

Over the last five years, the turf has required about six visits a year from maintenance contractors, which is twice the initial prediction. Weeds still grow through artificial grass, but unlike on real grass they can’t just be mowed down. Instead workers spray pesticide and then have to wait for the weeds to die, and return with a hand operated brusher to remove the dead weeds. They also have to pick garbage that sticks in the plastic bristles, and deal with dog waste that doesn’t decompose like it does on real grass.

The cost of six visits to maintain artificial turf from the city’s contractor is equivalent to 34 visits to mow natural lawn.

The price of artificial turf has also risen far more than the price of sod. One meter of turf now costs $133 to install, while a metre of sod is $30 including installation and irrigation.

Not only does it cost more, it’s worse for the environment and has elicited “generally negative” feedback from residents.

It’s also unclear how long the turf lasts. In 2017, staff wrote that turf should last 20 years with proper care, and expected a rough estimate of $10,000 maintenance costs per average boulevard. But the current report predicts a 10 to 15 year lifespan.

Westshore Developers Association endorsed the policy

In 2016 staff were directed by council to meet with the Westshore Developers Association, a group of developers who work in the Westshore, to discuss artificial turf, which is where the initial assumptions of cost, maintenance, and longevity came from.

Before bringing the report to the parks committee or council, staff received an endorsement from the Westshore Developers Association for the cost sharing option—originally proposed at a 60/40 split.

Is artificial turf safer for maintenance workers?

Worker safety was another reason they went with artificial turf, councillors said when they were challenged on the policy during the 2021 heat wave. They’d reasoned that fewer visits would mean less time working close to busy roads.

But staff told council on Monday that the city’s maintenance contractor has not raised safety concerns about mowing grass on medians. Where safety is a concern is places where workers need to crouch down to work on bushes or plants.

Coun. Mark Morley asked whether native plant gardens would be a better option, since they don’t require mowing, and have the added benefit of supporting native pollinators. Staff agreed this is a worthwhile solution to consider.