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Downtown parking proves divisive

Nancy Cooper, Mayor of Salmon Arm - Observer file photo
Nancy Cooper, Mayor of Salmon Arm
— image credit: Observer file photo

There’s a storm brewing between Salmon Arm merchants over a proposal for free two-hour parking in the downtown core.

This is city councillor Marg Kentel’s prediction regarding a debate that’s been growing between several downtown merchants and the body that’s intended to represent them, Downtown Salmon Arm. Her comments were made prior to council extending the current two-hour free parking trial period on Hudson for another two months.

In July 2013, council approved a request from the city’s Downtown Parking Commission, resulting from a request from Downtown Salmon Arm, to extend parking hours on Hudson Avenue, between Shuswap and Alexander streets, from one hour to two for a six-month trial period. Following this decision, council received a petition with 18 businesses in the affected area opposing the trial, which was supposed to finish at the end of January. However, city council extended the trial period to the end of February to allow Downtown Salmon Arm to conduct a survey.

The 2014 Downtown Salmon Public Parking Survey, which was open to community input, has since been completed and appears to favour expanding free two-hour parking to the entire downtown. In a Feb. 17 letter to council, Downtown Salmon Arm president Cookie Langenfeld calls the response from both downtown businesses and the public “overwhelmingly positive.” She asks that the trial be extended to a one-year period throughout the downtown core beginning March 1.

“In order to ensure the best reflection of our members’ needs, beginning in Jan. 2015, our staff will once again survey the membership and public to solicit feedback on their experience with the extended trial.”

In addition to this letter and the accompanying survey results, council received a package of letters from downtown merchants who remain opposed to the two-hour parking trial.

The package includes a petition signed by 16 downtown businesses, a letter from Spirit Quest Books owner Margaret Davidson, along with a letter signed, “the merchants, taxpayers and voters of Hudson Avenue.” This submission states the initial trial on Hudson Avenue was approved by council without prior notice or discussion with the affected merchants. In addition, the letter states these merchants were never consulted before the recommendation was brought to the parking commission by Downtown Salmon Arm.

“Several merchants have been impacted negatively, some having lost from 10 to 40 per cent of their business,” the letter states.

At Monday’s council meeting, Coun. Denise Reimer, who sits on the parking commission, said the commission had not yet had an opportunity to review the survey’s results, or the additional information provided by the merchants. She recommended the trial period be extended to allow the commission, and city staff, time to review the information in order to provide comment to council. City engineering and public works director Rob Niewenhuizen said this process would take two months.

Reimer said she would also like to discuss the material with council’s representative on the Downtown Salmon Arm board, Coun. Debbie Cannon, who was absent.

“I am feeling right now that I am not comfortable with this until we have some more discussion around it…,” said Reimer.

Kentel said one of the survey comments indicated that two-hour parking allowed the respondent to have lunch and then a walk to the wharf. She said this doesn’t reflect the intent behind the parking trial.

Coun. Ken Jamieson said he was disappointed at not having received a more “unified message” from Downtown Salmon Arm.

“I had hoped the 30-day extension would get us to a point where you could say, ‘yeah, it’s a good idea,’ or ‘no, let’s go back to one hour.’ But we’re no closer now than we were 30 days ago and I find it frustrating myself.”

Mayor Nancy Cooper assured that all information she has received, including petitions, has gone to council. She later told the Observer the final decision on whether to expand two-hour free parking to the entire downtown for a year falls on council’s shoulders.

“It’s kind of a difficult thing for council here because we do want to be responsive to the downtown in what they feel is best… because they have their businesses down there. We try to respect that,” said Cooper, adding council will wait for feedback from the parking commission and proceed from there.

 

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