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Smithers wins back-to-back Paperweight awards

Smithers got the award for its infamous sidewalk bylaw.
The portion of sidewalk the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre must build is at the end of this crosswalk pictured on the left. It crosses over the parking lot and ends at the edge a residential yard on Seventh Avenue. There is no current plan to extend it any further. Chris Gareau photo

The Town of Smithers has the (dis)honour of being named a recipient of a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 2018 Paperweight Award.

The “award” recognizes government departments or agencies who have made life difficult for business owners by adding or enforcing unnecessary rules and regulations.

Smithers again got the award for its infamous sidewalk bylaw. The bylaw states any construction or renovation above $100,000 requires businesses to build sidewalks in front of their property.

The Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre, a not-for-profit society, was forced to pay for a sidewalk on Seventh Avenue as result of the bylaw last year. A variance to not build it was denied by council.

This is the second year in a row Smithers has won a Paperweight Award. Smithers joins the National Capital Commission as the only government agencies to win the award twice.

The Town won the award last year for forcing North Central Plumbing and Heating to build a sidewalk on Frontage Road that does not yet connect to anything.

“This has to be one of the dumbest one’s we’ve seen,” said CFIB vice president, B.C. and Alberta, Richard Truscott.

“To us and many of our members what makes sense inside the local town or city hall doesn’t necessarily make sense to a lot of folks, including small business owners.”

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said this situation is different from the sidewalk on Frontage as the sidewalk on Seventh connects to the sidewalk on Columbia Drive.

“We’re committed to doing what’s good for the town’s long-term future. We always welcome the feedback of residents — we work on their behalf. One thing we’ve heard is that sidewalks are really important to people,” said Bachrach. “We’re going to continue working towards that but at the same time we’re always looking at better ways of doing things.”

According to a 2016 census, 25 per cent of people walk or bike to work in Smithers, which is over double the provincial and national average.

“We have a very active population, we have a lot of families and a lot of seniors, and we want to make sure that our neighbourhoods are connected by sidewalks over the long-term,” said Bachrach.

The mayor said he has brought forth an amendment to the bylaw which he hopes will come before council next month.

It reads as follows:

“That council directs staff to amend the Subdivision Servicing Bylaw to include a cash-in-lieu clause that allows property owners, in situations where constructing short sections of sidewalk is deemed impractical, to pay the Town funds equivalent to the Town’s estimated cost of constructing the sidewalk at a future date, and that a statutory reserve and tracking process be established be established for this purpose.”