Parking in Sidney has been a problem of sorts for years, says longtime town councillor Tim Chad, but this year the municipality is going to try to do something about it.
Chad has been on council for 19 years and says for all of that time, he has always heard complaints from residents outside the downtown core main streets of Beacon, Bevan and James White. The most common lament? Employees of downtown businesses using the residential side streets to park.
Chad said he is hopeful that a proposed 314-stall paved parking area south of the Mary Winspear Centre will solve the problem.
Sidney is applying for federal gas tax money to build what the municipality is calling a Downtown Employee Parking Lot. Chad said he estimates the project could cost as much as $1 million — including paving, drainage and beautification to lighting, a sani-dump for RVs and removal of the existing skateboard park.
It’s an expense Chad said he feels is worth it.
“It’s a damn good thing that we’ve got this idea,” he said. “Parking has always been a problem.”
He added the Town has already been in talks with the Memorial Park Society, which runs the Mary Winspear Centre, and the Victoria Airport Authority. Those two bodies own the land south of the Mary Winspear Centre’s existing parking area. Sidney will have to secure leases in order to build the parking lot. Chad said both the VAA and Society are supportive thus far.
Should the project go ahead, Chad said the idea is to educate downtown business owners and their employees that this will be the place to park, freeing up more stalls downtown for customers and keeping side streets clear for residents.
Asked how the Town could enforce that, he said they will have to create incentives — such as free parking in the new lot — and deterrents such as limiting parking times on more streets that border the downtown core. He added employees could even receive special stickers to ensure they can park free in the new lot — as well as identify them to parking enforcement when they stray.
“These are just ideas right now,” Chad said, “but we need to educate people and be patient.”
It’s not as though Sidney has a dearth of parking spaces in the downtown core. A 2007 parking study indicates Sidney had a 75 per cent occupancy rate at that time. The study by Boulevard Transportation Group estimated that usage would rise to 85 per cent by 2011 — called practical capacity — as long as typical population growth patterns held up. The study was updated by Boulevard in 2011 and repeated that estimate.
In both reports, Boulevard recommended Sidney look at building a parkade downtown — but not before implementing pay parking. To date, Sidney has not charged drivers to pay for parking in the street, only in town-owned lots. This new level parking lot plan would seem to eliminate any consideration of the parkade idea.
Asked if the project hinges upon getting gas tax grant money, Chad said at this point, yes it does. However, he added he’s willing to look into other funding options if the grant request falls through.
Coun. Erin Bremner added she likes the parking lot idea as well. She suggested the Town consider car share space there and perhaps attracting a shuttle bus to take employees in West Sidney to their industrial area jobs.
Should the plan get the green light, it would mean the removal of the skate park. A staff report indicates that it would “be replaced in future” but Chad said he’d want a parallel project in place to build a new one.
“It’s a big job, but the benefits for everyone have to be considered.”
Coun. Barbara Fallot added she hopes the skate park will survive the proposed change in the area.
Sidney Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble said if the Town gets the grant they will be applying for — as well as the long-term lease agreements — staff will begin work on relocation plans for the skate park.