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Steveston merchants reject parking meters

A village long known for its mostly free parking changed when the Steveston Harbour Authority started charging motorists. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
A village long known for its mostly free parking changed when the Steveston Harbour Authority started charging motorists.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

Pay parking on the streets of Steveston Village would "absolutely kill" businesses, according to the president of the Steveston Merchants Association.

"Merchants in the village have a pretty hard struggle for eight months of the year," said Jim van der Tas. "(Pay parking is) going to put up another barrier that people have to leap through to consider using Steveston as a place to shop."

City hall is mulling the idea of charging for street parking in Steveston, following Steveston Harbour Authority's move to add meters to federally-owned lots in the village.

City council's public works and transportation committee is expected to be the first to stickhandle the topic at its April 18 meeting.

Meanwhile merchants have signed a petition against the idea, which they say would lead to a drop in business that could cause some businesses to fold.

What separates Steveston from other popular destinations in the region, said van der Tas, who owns Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant, is lack of access and low density. The fishing village isn't easily accessed by transit, he contends, nor is it home to an abundance of people to create a critical mass of customers.

"You take that scenario of no density, no easy transit, and you put pay parking in, you're going to lose customers," he said.

On a sunny weekend in Steveston parking is difficult to find, van der Tas acknowledged, but he said that's not unlike any other destination in Metro Vancouver, such as Granville Island or Fort Langley. For two-thirds of the year, customers can park within a block of where they want to go, he said.

"You could shoot a cannon through Steveston most days and nights, specifically nights," said van der Tas, who is urging the city to allow merchants to draft their own proposal, one that could include moving staff vehicles elsewhere. "As business owners and merchants, we're not just saying no, we want to offer solutions."

Pay parking 'encourages turnover'

Talk of parking options in Steveston is almost as old as the village itself.

Within the last five years, the city has held at least two rounds of open houses on the topic. Feedback from a 2006 open house found just 18 per cent of respondents supported pay parking in the village core.

Last month city staff took its message to the Steveston 20/20 Group, an umbrella group of various community organizations in the area. At that meeting, staff told local community and business leaders what was driving the concept of pay parking on streets: to increase turnover of spaces near the waterfront, reduce circling traffic and increase the use of spaces farther north.

Accomplishing that could include angled parking for Chatham and Bayview streets, with the possibility of three zones of pay parking in the village.

Plans, said city spokesperson Ted Townsend, are "very preliminary." He said staff are planning to first recommend council approve more public consultation—including an open house this spring.

Nonetheless, Townsend said the pay street parking is being considered as a way to expand parking in Steveston.

"When (motorists) have to pay it encourages turnover, which means more people have the opportunity to use those spots throughout the day. So it actually increases capacity and the ability of people to patronize the shops."

Most parking lots open to the public are on federal land, managed by the Steveston Harbour Authority. The authority's largest lot—unpaved, full of large potholes and running alongside Chatham Street—became a pay lot last year, and others are expected to be converted soon.

Harbour authority general manager Bob Baziuk didn't return a call, but city staff recently told a council committee that the authority plans to start charging at its other village lots in May. Baziuk told the Review last year that parking revenue was needed in part to operate and maintain the lots.

Other groups, including the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, are considering charging for parking.

Steveston needs larger plan first

Before the city installs parking meters of its own, the fishing village needs a much larger, more comprehensive plan.

That according to Loren Slye, a Steveston resident and chair of the Steveston 20/20 Group. Village density, dyke levels and building heights all need attention before angled pay-parking spaces are created.

"We don't want what White Rock has, where you go sit in a restaurant and you go look at cars angle parked in front of you while you're trying to look at the ocean having a nice dinner. We don't need the ambience of a parking lot," said Slye.

Pay street parking could drive visitors farther into residential areas to find free spots—areas that are already forced to cope with high traffic during peak periods.

"I feel what we really need to do is go back to the drawing board," said Slye, suggesting public parking can be expanded at peak times by sharing lots with those who don't use them on weekends. "I think there's lots of parking opportunities. We just have to be creative and look at shared parking."

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