Listings have gone down while the average price for a single-family dwelling in Smithers has gone up to $307,000. Affordable housing was one of the topics at the Smithers forum hosted by the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce and the BC Northern Real Estate Board.

Smithers to decide

Housing, cannabis, safety, taxes and the proposed new library/gallery building debated in Smithers.

Twelve people want to run the Town of Smithers for the next four years.

Those 10 councillor (for six positions) and two mayoral candidates made their case in front of near-capacity Della Herman Theatre crowd last Wednesday, taking questions and debating what the town should be doing — and not doing.

See the full forum:

Last time there was no race for mayor. This time, incumbent mayor and graphic and web design company owner Taylor Bachrach has a challenger with a different vision in IT manager and business owner Randy Bell.

While there were a few differences in how taxpayer money should be spent and what the scope of municipal government, the new library and art gallery building was the big ticket item that saw a clear line drawn.

“I think the first question we have to ask is how much is it going to cost and can we afford it. I grew up in a city that has a very similar plan to what we’re proposing, but that city’s 85,000 people,” said Bell.

“So I’d love to see a new library/gallery, multi-function, but do you want to pay for it. I know there’s funding available, up to 90 per cent, but then we’re on the hook for the rest of it. That’s just the infrastructure building; now what are we going to do for the next 20 years to keep it going, keep paying for it.”

“Over $15 million is not realistic in my opinion.”

Library/gallery support answered by Lorne Benson, Phil Brienesse, Randy Bell and Glady Atrill:

Bell repeated that he wanted to focus on core infrastructure, something Bachrach said has been a focus with more spending dedicated to roads and sidewalks.

Bachrach also took his introduction to speak about the supportive housing project going up at Railway Avenue and Queen Street.

When affordable housing for workers was brought up, he pointed to the new tax break for developers who include residential units in new renovations or builds. Bell stressed the need for infrastructure like sewers, drainage and roads to be ready for any development in town.

Because the format tried to promote discussion and needed to focus on a few candidates, the housing question was directed to council candidates Phil Brienesse Frank Wray, Casda Thomas, Ryan Zapisocki and John Buikema, with Greg Brown and Lorne Benson using rebuttal cards to jump in.

Brienesse said the preparation the Town has done has them ready for BC Housing funding. He also pointed to allowing carriage houses and laneway housing as being ready for a boom. He also supports the idea of developing more narrow lots now not allowed for residential building.

Benson said he helped develop the Official Community Plan passed in 2010 that calls for more density. Stratas and co-op housing are examples of the success from that said Benson, who wants to revisit that plan and make sure it is on track.

Wray agreed with the work already done around housing and the skinny lot idea. He added that taxes are part of the affordable equation, as apartment developers pass on the cost.

Thomas wants to focus on a big picture strategy that looks at zoning, the rule that allows certain types of development on certain land. She said there are too many instances where things are made harder when variances are required.

Zapisocki said the coming LNG workforce will only make things worse, adding this is one of the most demanding problems that has been around for year. He likes the carriage and skinny home ideas, and added the tax break given to business for suites might be something to look at for residents too.

Brown said the biggest opportunity is federal and provincial funding for housing projects. He also said the Business Task Froce came up with specific action that helps, and the community plan is an opportunity.

Buikema said market forces are at work, but the Town has made progress in creating situations for housing. He liked the idea of narrow lots.

Other topics included LNG effect (mayor candidates)

Safety / missing and murdered people (mayor candidates)

Where to spend less (Phil Brienesse, Lorne Benson, Gladys Atrill, Tim Sharp, Frank Wray)

Red tape (Greg Brown, Colin Bateman, Phil Brienesse, Casda Thomas, Frank Wray)

How much to increase taxes for a new library/gallery (Randy Bell, Frank Wray, Lorne Benson, Taylor Bachrach, Gladys Atrill, Colin Bateman)

Cannabis legalization (Colin Bateman, Lorne Benson, Gladys Atrill, Tim Sharp, Greg Brown)

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Smithers council and mayoral candidates take questions from media and audience members at the Della Herman Theatre last Wednesday. Chris Gareau photo

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