Penticton looks at extension to free parking

Coun. John Vassilaki suggests extending free parking to two hours on Main Street, from Westminster to Eckhardt Avenue

According to Penticton Coun. John Vassilaki, the most complaint-driven subject in town is parking.

“Not the lack of parking, but the cost and the length of time free parking is permitted before one has to relocate his vehicle,” said Vassilaki. “In areas that have meters, drivers can stay as long as they like, as long as they remember to plug the meters.”

Vassilaki proposed this week that the time limit for free parking along Main Street, from Westminster to Eckhardt Avenue, be doubled to two hours. Over and over, he said, he hears complaints from merchants over the lack of time shoppers and diners have to finish their errands before they have to move their vehicle.

After an extended discussion of the issue and a close 4-3 vote, council elected to include the changes in the 2013 budget planning process. But Vassilaki’s parking concerns aren’t the only ones to have surfaced recently. In September, Coun. Judy Sentes questioned the level of parking enforcement and ticketing during major events like the recent Dragon Boat festival, which drew some 2,700 visitors.

City manager Annette Antoniak said she tends to agree with Sentes, and is in discussions with the city’s bylaw enforcement department regarding the concern.

“It’s a matter of using common sense. If people are blocking an emergency access or a driveway, that’s an issue,” said Antoniak. “When there is a big dragon boat festival or another big event going on, do you really want to annoy people? Is that the neighbourly thing to do?”

While he ended up supporting Vassilaki’s motion, Mayor Dan Ashton said Penticton doesn’t have a parking problem.

“A perfect example is the 400 block parking lot where the old Super-Valu store was. That lot was plugged. The minute they put a meter in, those cars are gone. You know where they are at, they are on Main Street, they are on the side streets,” said Ashton. He also pointed out a problem with owners and staff taking up the free parking on Main Street.

“I think it is behooving of any business to make sure that they, or their employees, are not taking up that space. They want the turnover,” Ashton said, adding that he doesn’t want to see pay parking on Main Street. Rather, he would rather see the businesses police the problem themselves. “I don’t want to see it utilized as a parking lot for employees and business owners.”

Coun. Andrew Jakubeit, who operates The Grooveyard on Main Street, echoed Ashton’s concerns. There was some irony, he said, that when he was president of the Downtown Penticton Association, he had lobbied for two-hour free parking. But that, he said, should be in the back parking lots.

“We have this problem with people that if they can’t drive up to a business and park in front of it, they think there is no parking and go elsewhere,” he said. “We still have chronic problems with some businesses, their staff and their owners parking in front of their place of business and taking up a spot that should be reserved for a playing customer.”

Vassilaki, whose sister operates a restaurant on Main, argued that problem remains, no matter how long or short the parking time limit.

“They do the same thing now with just the one hour. When the chalk person comes by, they go out there and rub the chalk off and it stays there for another hour,” said Vassilaki. “What I am trying to get away from is all the shoppers that continuously complain that they do not shop downtown because they have to pay to park or move their car every hour.”

Vassilaki was supported by a survey launched by the DPA in response to his notice of motion. They sent a survey to 202 of their members and received 129 responses. The majority, 108, supported a two-hour limit, with 21 opposed.

“This is not going to be a major cost. The only thing that has to be changed are the signs,” said Vassilaki. “We don’t have to spend millions of dollars in order to bring more people downtown to shop.”