Council looking for funds for sidewalk

While Bay City Contractors has been hired to build a sidewalk on the north side of King’s Highway from Daniel Avenue to Wal-Mart this summer, just how the town will pay for it remains to be seen.
Originally slated as a “local improvement project” (whereby the town would pay for 50 percent of the job and the affected landowners would split the rest), council voted against doing this at its regular meeting earlier this week.
The vote was taken after Glenn Witherspoon, owner of Witherspoon’s One Stop, pleaded with council to reconsider carrying through with the sidewalk project.
Witherspoon wondered why he should have pay for something that would not benefit his business at all, but would lead customers right to Wal-Mart—the “richest company in the world.”
He added when the site plan for Wal-Mart was drawn up several years ago, it included a sidewalk in front of the store. But “for some reason,” the town decided to cut it out of that plan as time went on.
“Wal-Mart is very, very rich. And they’re only going to pay $1,400 versus $5,000 by myself and $7,000 by the other company [Big Muddy Enterprises] that appealed this,” remarked Witherspoon.
Wal-Mart’s share is smaller because only 8.64 metres of sidewalk goes across the front of its property, not all the way across.
“It’s very, very unfair to the small people given that [the sidewalk] was in the plans,” he added.
Witherspoon said he’s aware the town wants to install the sidewalk for the safety of pedestrians.
“But I’ve been in business for 50 years,” he noted. “My father opened the business in 1956. I took over in 1980. For 50 years, we’ve not had a sidewalk, for 50 years, 99.9 percent of our customers drove in.
“The sidewalk will do absolutely nothing for my business,” he stressed.
“I don’t believe a sidewalk is a local improvement to your property. And I don’t believe that the party with the greatest interest in the sidewalk is the person whose property it happens to go across,” said Coun. Tannis Drysdale.
She added this case is an example of how the town should move away from local improvements and pay for projects, like sidewalks, through development charges and the like.
Coun. Roy Avis agreed with Coun. Drysdale, adding local improvement projects cause the town problems year after year.
Municipal planner Faye Flatt said she’ll contact Wal-Mart about contributing to “a community effort” and help pay for a greater portion of the sidewalk work.
“I have a feeling they’re going to contribute. They’re going to benefit the most,” said Coun. Todd Hamilton, adding even that 8.64 metres of sidewalk will bring customers to their store.
“It’s a safety issue and it needs to be dealt with. This is not about catering to Wal-Mart,” said Mayor Dan Onichuk, adding perhaps the town will have to dip into its reserves to fund the sidewalk project.
Couns. Struchan Gilson and Rick Wiedenhoeft also stressed the sidewalk was a safety issue that had to be addressed and the town should pay for it, whether it gets help from Wal-Mart or not.
Council voted in favour of defeating the bylaw to go ahead with the local improvement project, and will further discuss how to fund the sidewalk work at a special meeting Tuesday, July 5.
It also will contact Wal-Mart about helping pay for it.
As far as how the sidewalk that was supposed to be built in front of Wal-Mart as part of the original site plans got cut, Flatt said the decision was not made by the Operations and Facilities executive committee.
“That was an administrative decision from staff at that time,” she noted.
Both CAO Mark McCaig and Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown stressed they weren’t in their current positions at that time.
Council also chose not to go ahead with a sidewalk replacement project on the north side of First Street East, between Williams Avenue and Colonization Road East, after a successful petition by residents there.