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Downtown New Westminster parking in the spotlight

New West’s Downtown merchants are encouraged a process to address the area’s parking needs is finally underway.

But Mark Allison, a senior planner for the city, says a solution that meets the needs of those businesses as well as residents won’t be easy to find. That’s because parking is “a fluid situation.”

“Things change over time,” said Allison. “Parking in neighbourhoods can be difficult to balance. We’ve got to get the balance right.”

The first step in finding that balance began Thursday, with one of two open houses to be held to share information about Downtown parking needs and to solicit ideas about what can be done to meet those needs.

That’s music to the ears of Kendra Johnston, the executive director of the Downtown BIA.

“We’re happy it’s happening,” said Johnston of the public consultation process. “Parking is fairly important.”

And with more development bringing new residents and businesses into the area, the pressure to get a handle on Downtown’s parking situation is growing.

“This needs to start to happen,” said Johnston.

But car ownership is going down, and more people are choosing to live in New West because of the city’s excellent access to transit, said Allison.

While new developments include underground spaces for use of residents and tenants, those spots are expensive, as much as $45,000 a stall, says Allison.

In June, the city contracted Urban Systems to do a detailed parking study of the Downtown area. The firm looked at current parking regulations and rates, measured the usage of parking spaces in six precincts in the area on a Saturday and midweek day, and measured the turnover of spaces on specific streets.

The results of those study were available on information boards at the open house.

Participants were then encouraged to share their ideas in small discussion groups.

“We’re asking people for ideas, how to move forward,” says Allison.

Those discussions will be incorporated into proposals that will be presented at the second open house, scheduled for November.

“The key to this study is not too little or not too much,” said Allison. “If you ask for too little there’s pressure on merchants.”

That’s something Johnston said her members know only too well.

“Customers are funny, they want to find parking right in front of the store they’re going to. [Merchants] get complaints when people have to circle the block a couple of times looking for a spot.”

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