SMITHERS, B.C.—On a lonely stretch of pavement in Smithers, B.C., a black-and-white sign cautions passersby: “The end is near.”
But rather than warn of impending doomsday, the sign literally refers to the end of the sidewalk, just a 30-metre stroll away.
The “sidewalk to nowhere” outside North Central Plumbing and Heating is causing controversy in the small northwestern British Columbia town.
A local bylaw requires property owners with building permits of over $75,000 to construct public infrastructure, including sidewalks, outside their premises.
Trevor Bruintjes, general manager of North Central Plumbing and Heating, said it cost $10,000 to build the walkway that connects to nothing as the nearest sidewalk is 500 metres north.
“It is all by itself, for hundreds and hundreds of feet,” Bruintjes said. “It’s hard to miss. It seems a little ridiculous that you have this sidewalk with no other sidewalk within eyesight.”
The solo sidewalk was built earlier this year after the company decided to move to a building on Highway 16, requiring extensive and costly repairs, triggering the bylaw.
Bruintjes said he understands the bylaw’s intention is to improve public infrastructure over time. But the sidewalk will remain unconnected until one of his neighbours decides to undertake $75,000 in renovations.
He doesn’t expect that to happen any time soon.
“The intention, in this case, defies logic,” he said. “There’s got to be another way to make me put a sidewalk in when others are able to put sidewalks in as well.”
In the meantime, the business is poking fun at the situation. It installed two signs on the pathway: the first reading “The end is near,” and the second, a short distance later, reading, “The end.” At the grand opening of its new location, the company staged a race to the end of the sidewalk.
“We’re having as much fun with it as we can, just because we need to put it to some sort of use,” Bruintjes said with a laugh.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach said the sidewalk has created so much conversation that the town will hold a public meeting to discuss the bylaw and possible alternatives.
He said most, if not all, municipalities in B.C. follow the same basic philosophy, which is that new public infrastructure is paid for through development. Once a sidewalk is built, the town maintains it permanently using property tax revenue, he said.
“The idea is that over time, as properties in our community are developed, the holes will fill in and we will have contiguous, connected sidewalks throughout our community.”
The town has considered other ideas in the past, including allowing property owners to opt out of building the infrastructure and instead giving council an equivalent amount of money. Council would hold it until it had enough to build a longer sidewalk, or put it toward a higher-priority project.
But Bachrach said council found provincial laws only allow municipalities to collect funds from businesses for improvements along their storefronts, not elsewhere in the community.
He said he’s looking forward to hearing ideas from residents.
“I think it’s actually a good thing that this little piece of sidewalk has created so much conversation,” he said. “It brings the community together to ask the question, ‘How do we build and pay for the infrastructure that we all want in our town?”’