Council suspends pay parking at conference centre 

Residents call on council members to ‘cut costs’ during heated meeting

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Whistler's pay parking dispute reached a head Tuesday night as 100 community members packed into MY Millennium Place to voice their discontent.

Tension was thick during the evening - at one point the fiery crowd yelled at Mayor Ken Melamed and Whistler's six councillors to "cut costs" in a loud chorus that broke out from all corners of the theatre.

Earlier, a mass argument erupted among the crowd with people shouting furiously across the room for several minutes.

The crowd was the largest turnout to a public council meeting in recent memory, a sign of the anger many residents harbour over the recently introduced fees in the underground parking lot at the Telus Conference Centre.

Throughout the sporadic outbursts, however, Whistler's elected officials remained poised. And the three-hour discussion closed calmly with all seven council members voting to temporarily suspend pay parking at the conference centre.

Council asked municipal staff to put together a "parking strategy" in consultation with the community to examine how the four main parking areas in Whistler Village - the day skier lots, the conference centre, MarketPlace, and Main Street - are interconnected.

They also stressed municipal hall's parking lot should become pay parking once fees are reintroduced at the conference centre.

"To make it clear, council will not reconsider pay parking at the conference centre until the receipt of a parking strategy from staff, which has been approved by council, and after consultation with the community," the mayor announced.

In a speech to the crowd, Melamed outlined that he still supports "user pay" parking, but he also said he understands council's desire to postpone pay parking at the conference centre.

"I generally support the direction council is going in this regard (of pay parking)," said Melamed. "To me, it is completely incongruous that of all the underground parking in Whistler, the municipality has the only one that up until now has been free."

In response to the crowd's earlier cries to "cut costs," Melamed also pointed out the municipality cut $390,000 from its budget this year, which he said, "is a fair chunk of change."

Pay parking, both at the conference centre and scheduled to come into effect at three of the day skier lots next summer, has been a hot topic throughout Whistler's community since fees were introduced to the conference centre this spring.

Over the past few months, hundreds of people have voted "yes" to free parking generally in Whistler Village on the website www.freeparking.com . Moreover, 2,500 people have joined the Facebook group "Petition for Free Whistler Parking" and about 2,000 people signed paper petitions circulating through the village.

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