By Joe Konecny

Aylmer Express / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Port Stanley’s Business Improvement Area (BIA) won Central Elgin Council’s support Monday night for plans to wrestle control over downtown parking from the grips of seasonal visitors and tourists.

Council unanimously supported recommendations in a letter from BIA chairman Dustin Allen, calling for two-hour parking limits on downtown streets, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., throughout the summer busy season. Council also recommended that Elgin County Council consider embracing the same changes on the roadways it operates in Port Stanley.

The BIA also requested Council to delineate legal parking spaces with paint, further guiding motorists toward a more reasonable sharing of the business district’s streetscape. However, no action was taken on that matter.

“History has shown numerous instances where vehicles have blocked driveways, parked in front of fire hydrants, double parked – particularly on the west side of Main Street – and have taken up more than one parking spot,” Allen states in the BIA’s message to Council.

The BIA letter also refers to its consultations with William Street businesses about the impact of paid parking on the Main Beach parking lot. “Zero street … parking was available during the end of June, all of July, and all of August, after 10 a.m., because people did not want to pay to park for a beach day, so they ‘dumped’ their vehicle,” the letter continues.

“This got better after two-hour-max signs were installed, (but) back streets began to fill with vehicles, trailers, and motorhomes, often blocking driveways, or parking right on lawns,” added Allen. “Tourists would wander backyards, hop fences and trespass through neighborhoods surrounding the paid parking lots to get to Main Beach and avoid paying for parking.”

Lloyd PerrinCentral Elgin Director of Asset Management and Development Services said: “Parking spaces will not be painted.  By painting parking spaces, it will reduce the number of cars that could potentially be accommodated on-street because spaces would need to be painted based on the largest vehicle length, such as a pickup truck.  If the spaces are not painted, then smaller vehicles could parallel park in the same area with reasonable space between them and accommodate more vehicles.”

Allen’s letter was the BIA’s official response to the new Rates and Fees Bylaw approved by Council on November 8, 2021.

“We believe that these clearly painted lines and two-hour limits will provide customers ample time to shop locally, eat locally and even attend the Festival Theatre,” said Allen. “We understand these limits will not deter everyone from this ‘dumping,’ however the majority of visitors who are not familiar with Port Stanley and the village bylaws will think twice.”

Central Elgin’s User Fee Committee – chaired by Deputy Mayor Tom Marks – decided in November to expand the 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 off-street parking lots – referred to as Main Beach, Old Ball Park, Pierside Beach and Boat Launch – 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.

For 2022, CE Council accepted the committee’s recommendation to add 4.58 acres of space in five lots, generating up to $336,016 in additional revenue, equivalent to two per cent of the 2021 tax levy. The new paid, off-street parking lots are: Little Beach, East Headlands, the Visitor Centre, Erie Rest, and the Pharmacy Lot. Four “courtesy parking spots” will allow 15 minutes of free parking at the Visitor Centre, and at the Pharmacy lot.

Council has 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. They will be installed in May, before the Victoria Day weekend.

“These considerations would align with the October 28, 2019 climate emergency resolution of Council, to identify target areas in municipal policy that can have the greatest impact to reduce local impact on climate change,” according to the committee’s report.

“Generally, it would be beneficial to appreciate and utilize the value parking assets have in realizing other social and environmental objectives,” the committee report continues. “In the 2021 Central Elgin Budget, the net expenditure for the beach (cleanup and maintenance) is $621,898 funded from the tax levy. The generation of additional parking revenues could be utilized to offset these expenses.”

The CE committee and municipal staff formulated their off-street parking strategy after reading a new paper prepared for the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG), by Almos Tassonyi and Harry Kitchen.

“The strength of a user fee is its capacity to recover all costs of providing a service by linking charges for its use to those who use it,” according to the report by Tassonyi and Kitchen. “This is the classic benefits-received model of public finance – in other words, those who benefit are those who pay, also known as the ‘Wicksellian connection’. When this linkage is achieved, it is possible to satisfy several important criteria in financing public services: efficiency, accountability, transparency, fairness, and ease of administration.”

On Monday night, Ward 5 Councillor Fiona Wynn said: “I kind of like the idea of a two-hour maximum. I think that’s a great idea and unless I’m missing something, it might not go a long way, but some way, toward helping release a lot of the pressure for parking down in Port.”

The costs at the municipal parking lots are $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.

“It’s a concept we’ve talked about when we were talking about the other bylaws,” said Ward 1 Councillor Colleen Row. “It was just, at that time, that we thought well, we’ll see what happens, but there’s been enough vocal concern about it (that) we need the limit to keep the businesses and the turnover going.”