CANMORE – Canmore's elected officials have decided to hit pause on plans to implement paid parking this year in the downtown core.
Initially set to launch in 2020, plans for implementing paid parking last year were postponed due to COVID-19 to the 2021 business plan. However, after the downtown business association requested council reconsider that direction, council voted during a finance committee meeting in January to push paid parking into 2022 instead.
While the operating budget is set for final approval by council next Tuesday (Feb. 23), Mayor John Borrowman put forward the motion to delay implementation of paid parking another year.
"If I was a business in the downtown, I would be concerned about eliminating any uncertainty around being able to get through another COVID summer," said the mayor. "This motion, for this year, is about reducing the stress for small businesses."
Councillor Joanna McCallum voted in favour of the motion, but said she may bring the issue back prior to the final approval of the budget for reconsideration.
"I do agree that this weighs heavily on the minds of business owners in the downtown core, but I am not sure that it should," McCallum said, noting visitation this summer is likely to be comprised of mostly day-trippers. "I feel that it has the potential of being a red herring."
She said paid parking could improve the situation and reduce the stress day-trippers place on downtown infrastructure, without causing additional hardship on businesses.
"It would be great if we could get something out of [day-trippers] and that something is revenue from paid parking."
A letter from downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) board chair Christine de Soto in January asked council to reconsider the direction provided to administration in November when it voted to implement paid parking downtown and associated parking strategies in 2021.
"Considering the stress on business and the enormous lack of return on investment business incurred during the COVID-19 restrictions, the BIA board of directors would like the Town of Canmore to reconsider and delay implementation of the paid parking program and associated parking strategies in the town centre in 2021," de Soto wrote.
"It is felt the public perception of this implementation would not be viewed positively by businesses in the town centre, or by residents and we recommend the implementation once COVID-19 impacts are reduced and business returns to normal trends."
The BIA, however, supported the municipality exploring parking management for high demand areas outside the town centre in 2021, like Quarry Lake for example.
BIA executive director Beth Vandervoort said when council made its decision in November to pursue paid parking this year, that was before the second wave hit and COVID-19 numbers in the valley and province increased significantly, prompting additional public health restrictions.
Vandervoort said that implementing paid parking without also having a plan for intercept parking is not ideal and that when Canmore implements paid parking, it should be part of a comprehensive plan to manage people and vehicles in the downtown.
"We also feel a big part of all of this is the intercept parking," she said. "Where do you actually put intercept parking in order for peopel to be able to come downtown?"
When the Main Street road closure went into place last summer summer, intercept parking was available at Elevation Place, which was closed at the time. This year, it is unclear whether intercept parking will be secured in time for the busy summer months.
Vandervoort also indicated the BIA wishes to continue to lobby the municipal government to use the revenues from paid parking to support vibrancy in the downtown core. At the moment, the paid parking plan is to use revenues to offset the cost of offering fare-free public transit.
Fare-free transit will continue in 2021, however, but the funding to offset $19,000 in estimated lost revenues from paid parking will come from the tax stabilization reserve.