Tourists are pouring into the Coast and not all of them are booking accommodations.
RVs have begun filling Tofino’s streets and some locals are scratching their heads over how the district is handling them.
Tofino has developed a Downtown Parking Policy Map that designates specific street-parking criteria for specific areas of town. Some areas have time limits, ranging from 15 minutes to four hours, and others require permits; nearly all of them prohibit RVs.
The map shows RV street-parking is only available: along the stretches of Gibson and Fourth Street that border Wickaninnish Community School, the south end of First Street, and a residential block of Third Street between Gibson and Neil Street.
Lewis George lives on that block. He told the Westerly News it makes little sense to allow RV’s to park there and he’s frustrated the district didn’t ask area residents for input before implementing the policy.
“As taxpayers, we want to be heard and not just run over,” he said. “We weren’t asked about the campers parking in our front yard…I think they could have asked if we had any suggestions.”
He suggested RVs are crowding Third Street’s shoulders and forcing pedestrians onto the road.
“We have grandchildren. I walk everyday with them in a buggy and it’s not safe to be pushing a buggy on the road,” he said. “It’s become dangerous going for a walk, having these vehicles parked the way they do; they’re taking up all the space.”
He added many RV’s are not abiding by the four-hour time limit and are camping overnight outside his home.
“My wife and I have lived here for 30 years and we’ve never made a complaint…I get it that RV’s are coming into our town, and what have you, but they need a place to park,” he said. “Tofino has gotten to be such a destination spot, I just figure the district should be looking at it. If they have property, they should be looking at making room for campers.”
He suggested Tofino could utilize its space more effectively.
“They should be looking at what lands the district has that they may be able to open up for parking because parking’s been an issue for a long, long, time in Tofino; not only for the campers, but for people offshore and people just in general,” he said. “If they’re wanting to have RV parking, why couldn’t they use the community hall? There’s plenty of parking there where RVs could park for the day.”
Lewis and his wife Cathy wrote a letter to Tofino’s municipal council urging the district to prevent illegal overnight parking by enforcing the posted time limits and this letter landed on April 26’s council agenda.
“When we do call to get the bylaw [enforcement officers] to enforce the hours of parking stated on the signs, we either get no response or by the time one shows up, [the] RV users have already moved along,” they wrote.
“Can you assure the citizens of Third Street and the rest of the downtown core who get bombarded by overnight parkers that you will make sure the Bylaw Enforcement Officers are more diligent in minimizing the strain on those of us who are the tax payers of the community?”
The Georges expressed disappointment that area residents weren’t asked about the parking policy.
“These kinds of actions by the Tofino City Council are making us consider why we are still in our lovely home and if we should still continue to do so when we are never consulted on such matters,” they wrote.
The letter was put on the agenda’s ‘correspondence for information only’ portion and council chose to receive it without discussion.
During the meeting’s open question period, the Westerly asked why the letter had been put on the ‘information only’ pile and why council had chosen not to discuss the George’s concerns.
Mayor Josie Osborne responded letters regarding current policies and bylaws are often received for information.
“We do get correspondence from time to time that offers perspectives and opinions on things,” she said.
“The downtown core parking plan has been approved by council and it is what it is. So, if we get a question or a perspective on it, we may choose not to respond to that…It’s not to say that the perspective isn’t important and it’s certainly not to say that the perspective isn’t being read, because it is.”
She acknowledged the George’s letter specifically asked about how the district plans to prevent overnight parking on Third Street.
“Those kinds of items get handled by our bylaw enforcement staff,” she said. “They undertake their proactive enforcement of parking regulations and it will be handled that way.”
Coun. Al Anderson said accepting letters for information only is common practice throughout municipal and regional governments and noted council can choose to discuss any letters on the ‘information only’ list.
After the meeting, Lewis George told the Westerly he was disappointed council did not discuss the letter.
“It’s like we don’t mean anything,” he said. “Of course I’m disappointed that they wouldn’t at least say, ‘Well, we should have a look at it and have our staff take a look at what they’re saying,’ rather than just scrubbing it under the rug like the easiest thing to do.”
Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers told the Westerly the parking policy was adopted last year but its time-limits have not yet been enforced because the district did not have signage in place.
“We didn’t start putting signs up until this year,” he said adding the signs should all be installed by the summer and the time limits they lay out will be enforced.
He noted that prior to the policy’s adoption, RVs could park along Third with no restrictions.
“It’s not that that area was never filled, it’s just that now we’re now signing it so we can actually enforce it,” he said. “It’s a way to try to manage it and be able to enforce it.”
He said there are few other places to fit RVs.
“In the summertime, during the daytime, that’s the kind of place where we see RV’s being OK because they’re still close to the downtown core and there’s room,” he said. “Basically, that’s where we had space.”
He disagreed with George’s assertion that there were no opportunities for locals to provide input and said a draft policy was done in 2011 and public input was received from 2011-2013.
“We don’t have a situation where we can knock on everybody’s door every time we make a policy change, but with this parking program here were open houses and there were surveys,” he said.
“It’s a process. I don’t know what else to say. We have meetings; not a lot of people come to our meetings and, short of dragging people to meetings every time something happens, I don’t know what we’d do. There were opportunities for the community to comment…I feel bad for these folks that they didn’t realize they had the opportunity to do so.”
He said the policy was developed through public consultation and noted tweaks were made after recommendations from the local business community.
“Originally, we were calling for shorter hours and the business community wanted longer hours so we went back and forth a number of times for comment,” he said.
“We’ve been working with landowners, as they come forward, to try to address concerns where we can…We have the ability to tweak it here and there. Generally, we’d need a good reason to because we want to be cohesive as a whole and to be fair overall.”
Rodgers said different businesses wanted different time limits as whale watchers wanted longer limits for their patrons heading offshore while shopkeepers wanted shorter limits to allow more turnover.
“That doesn’t really work because then you end up with a plan that is a whole bunch of separate pieces rather than a comprehensive idea of what we’re trying to do,” he said.
He added the Georges weren’t the only neighbourhood residents not to participate in the discussions.
“There was probably not as much input from the residents neighbouring downtown than I would have expected,” he said. “People were primarily focused on Campbell and Main Streets but, because we have a shortage of parking spaces in our downtown in the summertime, these impacts get pushed out to our residential neighborhoods.”
Rodgers expects the policy to be tweaked as the signs go up and time limits start being enforced.
“This year is the year we expect to have the most concern or opposition or discomfort with it because it’s something new and we’re introducing some parking limits in places where they weren’t in the past,” he said.
“This is the year of implementation. Nothing’s perfect. I like where we’ve started from but we can change things and we’ll see how the summer goes.”
He added Tofino’s downtown is a “five-minute walk” across and suggested parkers should view the area like a shopping mall.
“The idea is that you can park somewhere in a mall and walk to another location and go back and forth and that’s, sort of, how we have to think about the downtown in the summertime,” he said.
“We’ve all been parking, myself included, on public streets without any rules for many decades and it’s been great but, fortunately and unfortunately, our town is growing and, in today’s world, growing means more cars. We already know it’s getting pushed into the residential areas, now we’re just trying to figure out how to manage it.”
He said Lewis George’s idea of directing RVs to the community hall was a solid one.
“If they chose to park up there they could; it’s not a bad idea,” he said.
“It’s a good point and it’s something that we could think about down the road: directing people up there.”