Politicians balk at tripling parking fees to $7 a day at Thetis, Sooke Potholes

A proposal to triple parking fees at Thetis Lake and Sooke ­Potholes received a cool reception from Capital Regional ­District politicians this week.

A staff report recommended increasing the seasonal daily rate from $2.25 to $7 as part of an overall strategy to align park fees and permits with other jurisdictions and generate more money for park maintenance.

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But the CRD’s parks ­committee sent the report back to staff for refinements, ­arguing the proposed increase is an ­“overreach.”

“I’m not opposed to potentially some increase in fees, but I think it goes too far and too fast,” said Ben Isitt, who chairs the parks committee.

The committee asked staff to look at a number of other options, such as instituting an hourly rather than a daily ­parking rate, or charging for parking year-round instead of only from May 1 to Sept. 30.

“I see no reason why we can’t either contract with people who can administer hourly parking or figure out a way to do it ourselves to make it more equitable,” said Victoria Coun. Geoff Young. “Maybe if you want to go for a quick swim, it is only $2, but if you need to stay there all day … then you’re gonna pay $7.”

View Royal Mayor David Screech, whose municipality is home to Thetis Lake, expressed concern about the impact on surrounding municipalities if higher parking rates ­encourage people to park on the street instead.

“I’ve seen firsthand what ­people do to avoid paying $2.25 for parking and just how far they’re prepared to go and what streets they’re prepared to clog up,” he said. “And I can only imagine what they’ll do to avoid $7 in parking.”

Thetis Lake and Sooke ­Potholes are the only two regional parks that charge for parking during the summer months.

The staff report, however, suggests expanding paid parking to other parks that have more than 100,000 visitors ­annually — including East Sooke, Elk/Beaver Lake and Mount Work — following a period of public consultation.

Thetis Lake and Sooke Potholes generated $190,647 based on 600,000 visits in 2019, and CRD staff project that paid parking at Elk/Beaver Lake would pull in about $500,000 a year, based on 1.5 million visits.

With visits to regional parks increasing every year, and only limited parking available, extending seasonal paid parking could help with both capacity and paying for ongoing ­maintenance and renewal costs, the report says.

Saanich Coun. Rebecca Mersereau acknowledged that new or higher fees will be unpopular with some, but called them a “prudent way” to increase revenue to support parks.

“We’re in this position because our parks are ­incredibly popular,” she said. “But there’s a cost associated with managing them.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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