Smithers, B.C., council embroiled in yet another sidewalk scandal

The town council of Smithers, B.C., is defending its controversial decision to enforce a bylaw requiring a non-profit society to build an unconnected sidewalk adjacent to its property.

For a town of 5,400 people, the municipality in northwestern B.C. has had a disproportionate number of sidewalk scandals in the past year.

Last year, business owner Trevor Bruintjes complained he was obliged to build a “sidewalk to nowhere” — a 100 metre unconnected strip in front of his property — due to a city bylaw.

Smithers sidewalk 2

Business owner Trevor Bruintjes had to put in the now infamous sidewalk last year after renovating his plumbing and heating business. He says there are no other sidewalks for about 500 metres in either direction. (Trevor Bruintjes)

The seemingly pointless construction led to heated public debates about the bylaw which requires any business completing over $75,000 in renovations to dedicate some portion of the project to building public infrastructure like sidewalks.

The $10,000 sidewalk even won a dubious distinction: a Paperweight Award from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for unnecessary red tape.

After much discussion, Smithers town council agreed to raise the cost of renovations that trigger the bylaw from $75,000 to $100,000.

But the new cost ceiling doesn’t exempt a project by the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre which is renovating its property — a former church in a residential area of town.

It is on the hook to build a portion of sidewalk along Seventh Avenue, which is the road adjacent to its property.

Sidewalk project justified

The requirement has yet again caused consternation in the town from some who feel the non-profit should spend its money on the children it serves rather than building public infrastructure.

According to town councillor Gladys Atrill, however, the sidewalk project is justified.

“Sidewalks are needed. People do walk along the roadway,” she said.

“The child development centre will — because of the work it does — increase traffic in that area. When the building was purchased and during the public hearings, [a sidewalk] was part of the rezoning development that allowed this to go through.”

Smithers Child Development Centre

The view from Seventh Avenue toward the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre — a former church — in Smithers, B.C. (Google Maps)

Atrill said the child development centre applied for a waiver for the sidewalk and other building requirements and noted it did receive some exemptions from municipal staff.

However, she said the town will still enforce the installation of the Seventh Avenue sidewalk.

“The town would like to upgrade [Seventh Avenue] to include sidewalks from Columbia (which is the street that the child development centre is facing) to Bulkley Drive which is part of the residential area [behind the centre],” she said.

As for when those connections to the centre’s sidewalk would be complete, Attril said it would be done as “soon as we can afford it.”

With files from Daybreak South

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