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A park or a place to park?
Parking is already at a premium in downtown Langley City, and turning McBurney Lane into a pedestrian corridor/greenbelt — however beautiful — will only make things worse.
That was the message Anita Ference and Terry Smith brought to City council on Monday night, speaking on behalf of merchants and shoppers in Langley City’s retail core.
Ference, who owns McBurney Lane Barbershop, and Smith, a longtime commercial property owner in McBurney Lane, were responding to a presentation made on July 21 by landscape architects from Vancouver’s Hapa Collaborative.
In it, a McBurney Lane enhancement project was laid out which would see 22 parking spaces removed from the lot immediately south of the square on Fraser Highway in favour of trees, green space, a walking path and other aesthetic improvements.
The City’s proposal is that the lost spaces could be replaced with the introduction of a new parking configuration along Douglas Crescent.
The installation of back-in angle parking along that street would add 26 new spaces — a net gain of four parking spots, noted City CAO Francis Cheung.
However, Ference insisted that moving customer parking farther away from the plaza will do serious harm to area businesses.
Offering convenient pick-up and delivery is vital, she told council, and the handicapped parking space currently provided in the lane is “necessary and used consistently,” she said.
She also has serious concerns that the design will “entice more vandalism, drug use and loitering.
“We agree with (making the downtown) greener, but taking parking away to meet those goals is not fair to the merchants,” she said.
Following her remarks, Ference presented a petition which, she told council, bears roughly 1,200 signatures of merchants and customers who are opposed to the plan.
“We’re willing to work together with the City to find a solution,” Ference said.
“We’re all members of the community.”
Despite assurances by Mayor Peter Fassbender that the City has not made any decisions about potential changes to McBurney Lane — and won’t, until the feasibility of the new parking structure on Douglas Crescent has been assessed — Smith fears the changes are inevitable.
“I’m very pessimistic. I feel it’s a fait accompli,” he said.
“I don’t think they understand the implication to businesses downtown. I’m very disappointed.”
Smith, a former Langley City councillor, said that a number of years ago, when 23 buildings sat empty in the downtown core because of a shortage of parking, council made a number of changes, including turning a section of Fraser Highway into a one-way street, dramatically increasing the number of parking spaces.
“When we increased parking on Fraser Highway, it improved immensely,” he said. “Instead of just driving by, people stopped and looked.
“At the time, we thought of closing off parking to Salt Lane. The merchants said ‘please, don’t,’ and we listened,” he said.
“I get the feeling this council is not listening.”
Following Smith’s and Ference’s presentations on Monday night, Councillor Gayle Martin said she has never understood why merchants and shoppers refused to use the parking lot the City provided two blocks east along Fraser Highway.
The City purchased the lot several years ago and then sold it after seeing it sit empty the vast majority of the time.
There is also parking available for $20 per month in the casino parkade, Martin noted, adding that is “only half a block away.”
She argued that shop owners and their staff parking in spaces they should be leaving for customers “is an ongoing complaint.”
Martin suggested — tongue in cheek — that if the City were to install parking meters, the problem would likely solve itself.
Smith agreed that some merchants and staff do park on the street in front of their shops, “but only a few bad apples,” he insisted.
Each parking space is worth more than $30,000 per year to the shops, and most owners understand that, said Smith, who is one of the few landlords in the area who is able to provide parking for his own tenants.
Martin also stated that she doesn’t believe it is up to the City to provide parking for businesses — a comment that took Smith by surprise, he admitted, adding he’d called her the following morning to talk about it.
“I disagree. Where is this coming from,” he asked.
“We have to supply parking downtown — of course that’s the role of the City.
“We’re not a mall. If we were, it would be our responsibility. We can’t anyway — where would we provide it?”
“I really don’t understand it, honestly. I’ve been a businessman all my life and we need to supply parking.
“Customers are not going to park at the casino and walk downtown to buy a chair at McBurney Lane. Right now, we need all the parking we can get.
“To remove 22 spots from the most used (parking lot) is stupid.”
“We will continue to work with you, to see what other options might be,” Fassbender told Smith and Ference on Monday night.
“I thought the idea of a pedestrian park was great,” said Councillor Rudy Storteboom. “But if parking is more important, then there are still a lot of questions to be answered.”