A proposal to extend free parking along Main Street for an extra hour has gained an initial green light from Penticton council.
Coun. John Vassilaki gained council's slim support Monday night for a plan to allow two hours of free parking from the 200 to 600 blocks of Main Street. Those blocks have no meters and currently allow for one hour of free parking.
Vassilaki said one hour is simply not enough.
"The complaint I hear over and over again is the lack of time shoppers and diners have to finish their errands before time is up and they have to move their automobile," he said.
He said many customers prefer to go elsewhere, where such parking restrictions are not in effect. He said the move to two hours of free parking would be an inexpensive way for the city to help downtown business owners increase their sales.
Council voted 4-3 in support of Vassilaki's proposal, with councillors Andrew Jakubeit, Garry Litke and Wes Hopkin opposed.
Jakubeit, a former president of the Downtown Penticton Association (DPA), said he would rather see an extension of free parking time in the rear lots along Ellis Street instead.
He said the one-hour limit on Main Street allows for a greater turnover in vehicles occupying prime parking spaces directly in front of stores.
"We have this problem with people who - if they can't drive up to a business and park in front of it, they have this concept that there is no parking and they go elsewhere," he said.
Jakubeit added there are still chronic problems where some employees park in front of their workplace, thus reducing parking for customers.
He said the parking question is premature, pending the completion of a revised downtown revitalization strategy.
"We're right in the middle of a downtown revitalization process, so why are we tackling a major issue outside of the scope of that entire project?"
Coun. Judy Sentes pointed to a recent survey undertaken by the DPA which saw 83.7 per cent support for a two-hour parking limit on Main Street among the 129 merchants and property owners who responded.
Sentes admitted she was quite surprised by the survey results.
"I have always heard from the merchants downtown that they wanted turnover. They didn't want people to be able to park there for too long a time," she said.
"They still have a primary concern being that staff parking on Main Street needs to be closely monitored. I think that's the responsibility of the shopkeepers."
Council referred the parking issue to its 2013 budget deliberations, although the only expense would involve erecting new signs indicating the two-hour limit.