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There is land — we just need to make it available

Earlier this month, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society proposed to build a new child care centre somewhere in the region.

Earlier this month, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society proposed to build a new child care centre somewhere in the region.

Ideally, they’d like to do it in Smithers and asked Smithers council if there was there was a town-owned lot they could use.

The concept for their new project is very innovative. The model they are developing will include post-secondary education to provide training for Indigenous students in the Smithers area to obtain their Indigenous Early Childhood Education program certificate; affordable housing for staff to ease recruitment and retention of employees issues; and Indigenous-led child care that will provide 51 spaces.

These are all things the town needs.

Housing, child care and trained childcare providers.

It is no secret that housing, let alone affordable housing, is hard to come by in town. And the need for daycare spaces is great. The town is short by about 50 spaces. That means some parents aren’t working because they don’t have childcare or there are illegal and unregulated childcare centres in town. The centre can also provide before and after school care, something else is that is needed.

The friendship centre seems to have crossed all the T’s and dotted all their I’s. A centre that provides childcare, housing to attract and retain staff and training to hire the right people. They even have the funding to build the project. The only problem is that they need a lot to build it on. Smithers Council seemed to like the project and didn’t deny the need for the childcare spaces, however, noted that available land in town is hard to come by.

At the April 11 council meeting, when a housing consultant from the friendship centre spoke about the project, Mayor Gladys Atrill explained that the town doesn’t have a lot of available land but understands the need for child care.

“Part of your question is, do we feel the need? And do we want to be supportive of development to support child care? I think personally, I can say yes,” she said.

“But if the question is embedded in our ability of land, I think that becomes a much more difficult question.”

READ MORE: Friendship Centre Society wants to build daycare

At that same meeting, shortly after the presentation on that project, council decided to — for now, not proceed with a Local Area Service for Alfred Avenue. Residents on two blocks of that road petitioned for council to pave to it. With the residents paying for half of it and the town paying for the other half. The problem with the project is that part of the street borders crown land. The province, which is a neighbour, isn’t going to pay its share, meaning the town would be on the hook for their share. So, in the end, the residents would be paying 25 per cent and the town forking over the remaining 75 per cent. This would become an extremely expensive project for the municipality, so town council decided to drop the idea for now. However, this means that until those two blocks of Alfred Avenue are constructed, town staff will continue to deny development and building permit applications because the lane does not comply with current primary access standards in both the building and fire codes.

That crown land is near downtown and not currently being used. Maybe this is too obvious of an answer, but wouldn’t that lot be a great spot for the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society’s new daycare centre? The province could enter into a long term lease with the society and then either the province or the society could help pay for the paving project. The provincial government has stated recently that finding housing is a priority. Not only would giving up this lot build some housing, it would also allow more development on Alfred Avenue.

READ MORE FROM THE STICKY FILES: Take a lesson from Mayor Alice and be unapologetic

I don’t know if this lot is the answer, maybe it’s a swamp or maybe the province has plans for it but there is land in Smithers, we just need to make it available.

Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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