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Sparks fly over highway projects

A discussion about projects to improve the Highway 3 corridor through Cranbrook struck a nerve with city council at its regular Monday, March 17 meeting.

The Highway 3/95 Revitalization Committee brought a recommendation of three priority projects to council for approval. The projects are as follows:

1. Fix or replace the "Welcome to Cranbrook" sign at the city's north entrance;

2. create a path from the end of Rotary Trail at the Prestige to Elizabeth Lake; and

3. upgrade way-finding signage to direct traffic off the highway and to city attractions such as parks and recreational facilities.

Mayor Wayne Stetski explained that the first project has about $11,000 allotted for it in the 2014 budget.

"We talked about taking the one from the other end of town if it's in good enough shape and moving it up to that end of town. And then maybe getting some lights on it so that it shows up at night as well," said Stetski.

He also said that an artist has been asked to create a design for a new sign at the north entrance.

"Once that sign is done, that may come back to council for questions as to whether council wanted to fund that out of surplus," said Stetski.

Project 2 also has some funding in the budget, he said – about $20,000.

The third project is being discussed in meetings with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Tourism.

But some members of council were concerned that if they approved the highway projects, more money would be assigned without requiring further approval from council.

"With regard to the entrance sign and the Rotary Trail, we do have small amounts in the budget but I would just like to make sure that it all comes to council and we know what's going on and we know before we commit to the whole project – what it is all going to cost and who are the players and are we going to get money from the Ministry of Transportation," said Councillor Diana J. Scott.

"I'm not against these priorities at all but I just want to make sure that we know what we're doing, council knows what we're doing, we know where the money's coming from, because I bet you it's all going to cost a lot more than $30,000."

Councillor Angus Davis brought up the upgrades to Cranbrook's west entrance at Elizabeth Lake, which were completed last year.

"Last time was a nightmare because we weren't all appraised on it. That was unfortunate. It happened, and we've gone past it, but I just feel that this is walking down the same path. I think, sure, have the committee come up with a package. Let's tell us what it costs and, chances are, yeah, go ahead. But this is where the decision has to be made, not at the committee level. And I say that with all respect."

In the interest of compromise, Councillor Bob Whetham suggested that instead of approving the projects, council accept the list for information.

"That way it's clear it's not an action item. We are receiving it, and we can choose to do what we wish with it," said Whetham.

"That's how I read it, but obviously others are not reading it that way," responded Mayor Stetski.

Councillor Denise Pallesen said she was not comfortable even accepting the report.

"I'd like to see us just leave it alone," she said. "I'm not sure that I want to take it even for information. Let's wait and see. When these items do come up, then we can make a motion at that time. When we have the funds for it, then we can move forward with it."

Mayor Stetski insisted that council would still have the opportunity to approve the individual projects at a later stage.

"The committee is saying: these are our three priorities. I don't know whether we should be arguing with the committee's priorities. In terms of the budgeting of these, I think that's a separate discussion. We have already committed some money towards these projects out of the budget. If there is any additional money needed, it would come back to council. I would argue that happened the last time as well. I know there is a difference of opinion, but it has always come to council for a council decision."

Councillor Scott said it was interesting that the committee was suggesting more signage on the strip, given council's lengthy back-and-forth over the new sign bylaw, adopted in August 2013, which was sparked by a business's request for an electronic reader board sign.

"I find it slightly ironic that we are talking about putting up more signs along the highway when we had a big year-long discussion about too many signs on the highway," she said.

Councillor Sharon Cross pointed out the two types of signs are not the same.

"This kind of signage is quite a bit different from what we were talking about. Just like we have a hospital sign – it's not a big billboard, it's not humungous, it's not flashing. It's just a regular directional sign," she said.

In the end, council voted unanimously not to approve the list of projects brought forward by the Highway 3/95 Revitalization Committee. Councillor Whetham's motion to accept the report for information passed, but Councillor Pallesen was opposed.

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