TRAVERSE CITY — Visitors to Empire’s beach could have to pay $1 an hour this summer to park at prime spots.
Members of the Empire Village Council voted to charge that amount to park at one of the beach’s 87 prime — and previously free — parking spots.
Village officials caused a stir when they considered charging $10 a day for beach parking, potentially violating a grants agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The conflict would be alleviated with the $1 an hour fee, which would only be charged at prime spots and not for overflow parking.
“We felt that was a reasonable parking fee, with the understanding visitors can still access the site for free if they were able to walk in,” said Christie Bayus, a recreation grant coordinator for the DNR.
Village officials hope to recoup some beach maintenance costs from the fee. Village and township residents would receive a pass in the mail that would allow them to park in those spaces for free.
“I see a benefit as a way of offsetting some of the costs that we incur in maintaining the beach, because of growing popularity of the beach and whatnot, the beach is busier and busier and therefore it’s harder and harder to maintain a nice level of quality,” said Village Trustee Cile Plumstead.
Plumstead said she initially voted against the new parking fee because she believed there were too many unanswered variables, such as how parking would be enforced, whether special passes would be offered or how signage would work.
Village officials will install one parking machine this summer, though exactly when is uncertain, said Darlene Friend, the village deputy clerk. The village can use the machine for a 90-day free trial period, she said.
Jeremy Houghton, a manager at the Empire Village Inn, opposes charging any fee and worries it could hurt business.
“Somebody comes to Empire beach and says, ‘Why do I have to pay to come here now?’” Houghton said.