By Joe Konecny

Aylmer Express / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Central Elgin Council returned to the drawing board on June 27, 2022 and started revamping the municipality’s controversial new parking restrictions in Port Stanley.

Responding to widespread criticisms of Traffic Bylaw No. 2697, Councilors endorsed bylaw amendments proposed by Ward 1 Councilor Colleen Row and requested staff to prepare an implementation strategy.

Row’s plan would render the two-hour, on-street parking limit unenforceable in the village’s business district, affecting parking on Colonel Bostwick, Bridge, Hetty, Colborne and Joseph streets, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The limit will still be enforced on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

Also, Row proposed waiving paid parking fees in the municipal lot behind the I.D.A. Highland Drug Mart, at 222 Colborne Street, also from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Paid parking would, however, be enforced on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

“It is opposite to if you go to any other town,” Row noted. “It’s the opposite of what they typically do. They would say ‘you have to pay or be limited Monday to Friday, but the weekends are free’.

“This is the opposite, but it’s the opposite on purpose because (Port Stanley) is a destination on the weekends given the beach,” added Row.

Central Elgin’s User Fee Committee – chaired by Deputy Mayor Tom Marks – decided in November to expand the village’s off-street parking network after a review of the $412,317 that the municipality generated from 5.2 acres of space on four lots. The committee was fulfilling Council’s strategic plan, searching for revenues outside the tax base.

For 2022, Council accepted the committee’s recommendation to add another 4.58 acres of space with a fifth lot, generating up to $336,016 in additional revenue, equivalent to two per cent of the 2021 tax levy. The paid, off-street parking lots are: Little Beach, East Headlands, the Visitor Centre, Erie Rest, and the Pharmacy Lot.

The off-street parking lots operate daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from May 1 to September 30. The Boat Launch lot operates 24 hours a day. The costs at the municipal parking lots are now $4 per hour, $20 per day, and $30 per day if users have a trailer. A single vehicle season pass costs $100. A season pass for a single vehicle with a boat trailer is $120.

Council had also approved spending $125,762 plus taxes for the purchase of 14 new parking meters, including nine to replace the old ones at Main Beach and the Boat Launch lots.

“We just looked at the Harbour Master Plan and the costs that we’re going to be incurring over the next few years in Port Stanley and … I think it’s very important that the amenities, that some of that money definitely has to come from Port Stanley,” said Mayor Sally Martyn. “That’s part of what this is all about, is to help offset the costs that we’re going to be incurring in Port Stanley, so that the taxpayers from all the rest of Central Elgin aren’t heavily burdened by things we are hoping to do.

“I know it’s going to be a great park for all of Central Elgin, and great waterfront, but certainly the people of Port Stanley will benefit more, and the tourists will benefit more, than some of the other resident in Central Elgin,” Martyn continued. “The paid parking is supposed to help offset that.”

Marks wondered whether making changes at the Pharmacy Lot would prompt members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 410 – or any of a number of other special interest groups – to ask for similar strategies in their neighborhoods.

“I know we have a problem,” said Mark, ‘but a lot of these issues can be solved by that $100 purchase of the annual pass. We’re reacting. We’ve only been at this literally for one month.

”I feel for the merchants, but this doesn’t sound very simple to me,” he continued. “We spent a month trying to get those FAQs. So people are starting to get the message. Now we’re changing the rules.”

Martyn disagreed. “To me, it’s fairly clear. I think it’s going to be very important too that people on Main Street, the businesses on Main Street, and the parking lot where the Legion people park, they need to know we’re not going to reconsider any of that. We can’t keep amending this over and over again.”

Lloyd Perrin, Central Elgin’s Director of Asset Management and Development Services, said obtaining new parking signs may be an issue.

“Any revisions to signage would take four to six weeks,” said Perrin. “That’s how long it took to get the sign up that are up now. That’s why it took so long to start enforcing the bylaw, because we didn’t have the proper signage up to be able to enforce it.”

Row suggested that the amendments could be implemented without changing the signs. Getting the message out via Central Elgin’s normal communications channels would suffice, she added.

“Everything takes time, but I think just knowing that the issue has been recognized and it’s being dealt with, I think should be a good message,” added Row. “I recognize it’s not an easy thing to do, but I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Paul Shipway, Chief Administrative Officer and Clerk, said staff requires time to scrutinize the new parking proposal and how it would work alongside other regulations.

“Staff are happy to carry out whatever directions Council provides, and will do it as expeditiously as possible, however, as this is the first time we’re hearing about this, it’s difficult to contemplate all the potential changes required,” he said. “I just want to reiterate, staff are not serving as impediments. We’re just trying to make Council aware of the requirements to process these changes. At first blush, it’s going to be complex and nuanced to explain to stakeholders in the community.”

Ward 5 Councillor Fiona Wynn said: “We’re not able to change anything this season, but I don’t think this is something we should drop in the lap of the new Council and having to start all over again.The concerns have been loud and clear.”

Mayor Martyn shared one of the many electronic messages and telephone calls she received on the matter, telling councilors about a woman who visited with friends in the village. She was ticketed and vowed never to return. “I know the theatre has been very concerned and I have received all kinds of emails from patrons of the theatre, saying they won’t be back. They’ve got season tickets, but they’re not coming again because it cost so much to park, or they can’t in a place to park.”

Ward 2 Councillor Dennis Crevits said he had received a couple messages complaining about having to pay for parking when they visited the pharmacy.

Ward 4 Councillor Bill Fehr said: “I get a little nervous about selective enforcement. But I would move back to the way it was before. There are other businesses besides the theatre. They’re in business six to seven days a week. I would like to clear that area and just say it’s a business core, and it should go back to the way it was without parking restrictions at all in that area.”