COLUMN: Waterfront a precious asset

It’s rare indeed that a local government will turn down a gift from the provincial or federal government, but the City of White Rock may have no choice.

Its plan to put a Spirit Square along Marine Drive near the pier, taking away 32 parking spaces, has created outrage among business owners and a lot of concern among residents of both Surrey and White Rock. Parking is at such a premium on the waterfront that the loss of even one space is noticeable. The loss of 32 spaces will have a devastating effect on any businesses in the area.

The province is willing to give White Rock $500,000 towards the Spirit Square. It is part of an ambitious program across B.C. to improve popular downtown and tourist areas. Most communities are pleased to be getting the money, and plans for Spirit Squares have not usually been controversial.

(Surrey’s Spirit Square will be located in Holland Park in Whalley).

However, White Rock’s parking challenges have been an ongoing source of tension for years.

Until recent years, diners had to keep one eye on their watches and run out in the midst of meals to plug the meter again, or be greeted with a ticket when they returned to their vehicles. The ability to renew parking by cellphone has eased that problem.

But visitors still need to pay for parking until 2 a.m. There is almost no time where parking is free and this continuous thirst for money keeps some casual visitors away from the waterfront.

The city is dependent on parking revenue. Without it, it would be very limited in its ability to fund capital projects.

That’s where the loss of 32 parking spots for a Spirit Square that will do little to boost the number of visitors to the waterfront really puzzles. How can the city give up that revenue? How does it plan to replace it? What is the net benefit?

Mayor Judy Forster has called for a task force to look at the entire issue of paid parking. This is long overdue. There needs to be a full examination of the benefits and drawbacks of the current system. There also needs to be a serious examination of a plan which would allow people to park for a low cost elsewhere, and take a shuttle bus to the waterfront.

Many people would use such a service in the spring and summer months, if it were offered. The TransLink-operated service is a step in that direction, but it is expensive for a short trip, and doesn’t operate frequently enough, particularly late at night.

The city should also approach the Semiahmoo First Nation and see if it could work out an arrangement to use spaces at Semiahmoo Park, and perhaps manage the existing parking system there, while guaranteeing more revenue for the band.

White Rock’s waterfront is a true jewel for residents and visitors alike. Higher real estate values and a growing population in Surrey has led to major redevelopment of the waterfront commercial area, which has been a significant benefit to White Rock.

However, any plans to reduce parking spots could do serious damage to the viability of those businesses.

The Spirit Square proposal, no matter where the funds come from, must be considered carefully in light of its long-term effect on the waterfront.


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