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Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
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Council approves free parking in Old Town for December
Council approves free parking in Old Town for December. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

A major car-tastrophe was barely averted in Old Town this past week after NOTL shoppers were faced with the prospect of no free parking for the month of December.

A Facebook posting from the Town of NOTL about renewing residential parking permits warned that "parking will be enforced throughout December" by NOTL's notoriously efficient parking gendarmes.

The post ignited a firestorm on social media that took several days to quell.

Monday’s council meeting put rumours and speculations to rest: town council unanimously approved free parking in Old Town until the end of December, except for the old hospital site, where four parking machines will still be accepting payments.

Paid metered parking will remain at the hospital site because the Shaw Festival is running additional programming this month, so the town doesn’t want Shaw patrons “taking up the spaces” at the hospital site, said interim chief administrative officer Sheldon Randall.

The process of approving free parking has been different every year, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said. Last year, town council didn’t have meetings in October and November, so she said parking was free in December because it never went to council for a decision.

In previous years, parking downtown was free all December at the request of the Chamber of Commerce, town spokesperson Lauren Kruitbosch said early last week when the town’s warning about enforced parking was posted.

“The town did not receive a request from the chamber this year, nor was there any direction from council. Therefore, unless otherwise advised by council, staff will continue to enforce parking throughout December,” Kruitbosch said in an email response.

NOTL Chamber of Commerce president Eduardo Lafforgue said he wasn’t aware a request needed to be made but added when he spoke with town staff last month he was told there would be no free parking downtown this December.

“When I was told a request needed to be made I put the request in right away,” he said.

Lafforgue said he made an official request for free parking downtown in December to Randall on Thursday.

However, he added, parking meters were covered, and parking appeared to be free for the first few days of the month.

“It’s hard to make a request for free parking when parking is already free,” he said.

On Dec. 5, town staff received a letter requesting free parking in Old Town from the chamber.

“I don’t want to get into all social media stuff back and forth on misinformation nor am I trying to point any fingers anywhere,” said Coun. Allan Bisback. “But it’s important for residents to understand there’s been a lot of confusion, a lot of misinformation, but no tickets have been issued since Dec. 1.”

When asked by Bisback, Lafforgue told councillors he supports free parking.

Following council’s approval, town staff will review free parking every year in October.

Randall said town staff will also reach out to the chamber and major industry leaders to get their “official opinions” on free parking in December and will discuss whether it benefits Queen Street businesses. Staff will then come back to council with information next October or earlier.

Disero said it’s nobody’s fault. “It is what it is. We will correct it … Any inconvenience or concern this has caused anybody in the town, I would like to apologize on behalf of all of us for whatever’s happened to add to discomfort to anyone’s life in the last three or four days.”

Out of 54 parking machines, 50 have already been programmed by an outside consultant to not accept payments.

Coun. Erwin Wiens said it was a miscommunication and there was “no blame to be laid here” but councillors were “unfairly attacked.”

* With files from Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

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