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Option to avoid sidewalks to nowhere

Smithers developers would still need to pay 100 per cent of sidewalk cost.
Sidewalk to nowhere on Frontage Road in Smithers. Chris Gareau photo

A reserve account is now available for anyone looking to pay the Town of Smithers to not build another sidewalk to nowhere.

Council amended the bylaw that required the town’s infamous first sidewalk to nowhere to be built in front of North Central Plumbing and Heating on Frontage Road.

All developments being built or renovated at a cost above $100,000 (raised from $75,000 after the sidewalk to nowhere was built), including places where sidewalks may not seem as usable like in front of North Central, the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre and temporary college student housing moving in on Mountainview Drive, are required to pay for off-site works.

With the change, cash-in-lieu can be given to the Town instead of building a nonsensical or under-used piece of infrastructure. Council created a reserve to store the cash at last Tuesday’s council meeting.

When first proposed by Mayor Taylor Bachrach, the new rule would be that the cost of the sidewalk could be given to the Town for future use.

In other words, the money would be saved in a reserve and maintenance costs not spent until a sidewalk in front of that development made sense.

The decision on whether it made sense or not would be up to the Town approving officer, and the developer would still have the option of building it right away anyway.

But now the idea has expanded to include all off-site works — things like back lanes, boulevards, curbs and gutters, and lighting. Most of those things other than the sidewalks seemed unlikely to be offered as cash-in-lieu options as they would be more likely to be deemed necessary.

Also, the developer would not be saving money. They would still be paying 100 per cent of the cost of the sidewalk as determined by the Town, only now there would not be a sidewalk built until a later date.

Bachrach said North Central offered to give money to put towards a sidewalk expansion anywhere in town it made more sense. While this bylaw change would not make that possible, the business would have had the option to wait for sidewalk or cash designated for sidewalk to be put down closer to their location.

“The biggest thing here is we wanted to put that decision in the hands of the developer. So in situations where the works are deemed impracticable according to the bylaw, they will have the option of either building the works or providing the Town with cash,” said Bachrach.

The mayor said the option has been discussed by developers looking to build.

“It’s certainly something that’s been discussed. There are different developers who have different developments in the works but just haven’t gotten to that phase of the development where they would need to be entering into an off-site works agreement,” said Bachrach.

He added he has not had personal conversations with anyone who will take up the cash-in-lieu option yet.

“When the issue around short sections of sidewalk came up and there was quite a bit of community interest — and provincial interest and national interest — the number one suggestion that people came forward with was the idea of a cash-in-lieu system. So looking at what other communities do, we were able to put that system in place,” said Bachrach.

He said staff and council invested a lot of time and effort into the new rules, so a wait and see approach would be taken to gauge the success of the option for developers before considering any other systems.