Council defers hard parking decisions for a month

The ongoing feud between city council and Ottawa’s downtown business community over parking meter rates, locations and hours has been parked for yet another month.

After a heated debate, city council voted to increase the meter rate to $3 per hour effective March 1, but decided to delay the rest of the decisions until March 26.

Business leaders were pleased with the council’s latest decision. Lori Mellor, executive director of the Preston Street BIA, described it as a win for the downtown.

“All through this process we felt our concerns were being ignored. Finally council is listening to us.”

Earlier this month, the city’s transportation committee recommended that hourly parking rates be increased from $2.50 to $3.25, expand paid parking into three new areas and extend collection hours until 7 p.m. and on Saturdays.

This continued to infuriate large segments of the community, including businesses and churches, who said the new parking regulations would discourage people from shopping downtown and hinder the areas’ commerce during evenings and weekends where the city charges for parking.

Last week, council assigned a group of city staff, councillors and representatives from the downtown business improvement areas to find other ways to make up the resulting revenue shortfall – estimated to be more than $3 million.

Council voted 12 to 10 in favour of the deferral with several councillors voicing their disapproval.

“If you think the BIAs can come up with $2 million in ideas in a month and have them implemented that’s not going to happen. Don’t send them on a wild goose chase to have them do the work for us,” said Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes.

Bay Coun. Alex Cullen said repeatedly the city is floundering over the parking issue, noting a delay until March 26 would just prolong the agony.

“We have a compromise that comes out of transportation committee that continues to balance the budget. Inevitably we would have raised fees and changed hours because shopping patterns have changed.”

Mellor said that instead of extending the hours and charging on weekends, most of the BIAs could find additional spots for new meters. She would also like the city to consider variable meter rates for different streets and implement a new parking authority.

“Other cities also have parking authorities that are arm’s length, which means the city can’t just go in there whenever they have budget issues,” Mellor said.

Jasna Jennings, executive director of the Byward Market BIA, was also pleased with the decision and said she could find upwards of 40 additional parking spots in the Byward Market.

“They’ve told us each spot makes upwards of $5,000 a year. We can probably find additional $250,000 in revenue quickly without a lot of effort,” said Jennings.

She said the city could explore increasing fines for the most serious violators including those who misuse parking in handicap spots and in no stopping zones.

She also noted city staff have free parking at municipal administrative offices at 100 Constellation Cresc. in Nepean and would like to see that change.

“They are giving hundreds of employees free parking yet they are right beside a transit station. And they were ready to punish the downtown with punitive parking arrangements,” Jennings said.

Sharon McKenna, of the Sparks Street BIA, suggested the city could charge for parking at various beaches and parks.

Kitchissippi Coun. Christine Leadman, who is co-leading the working group with River Coun. Maria McRae, said the deferral is a step in the right direction.

 “There has to be flexibility in how we approach this and that’s why we need stakeholders at the table to bring forward a better strategy,” Leadman said.