TRAVERSE CITY — Some Village of Empire officials are backing out of their position on paid beachfront parking.
Village Council members two weeks ago voted to charge $1 per-hour for people to park in the village’s 87 prime parking spots closest to the beach.
Two trustees said they would reconsider their positions after residents presented them with a petition against paid parking at a May 9 meeting.
More than 300 people from the area signed the petition that opposes paid parking.
“It was taken by Council more as a show of concern about the impacts of paid parking, rather than a legal, binding type of a petition,” said Village President Sue Carpenter. “We just looked at it as a show of support.”
Frank Lerch, owner of Joe’s Friendly Tavern, the Empire Village Inn, and Gemma’s Coffee Shop, circulated the petition. He said he worries would-be beach-goers will park in the village instead of by the beach.
“My main concern was, when I drive by a restaurant and the parking lot is jammed full, I’m not going to go in,” Lerchen said. “I was just concerned it might appear a little bit unfriendly.”
The petition included signatures from people in Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse County, Lerchen said.
“We thought it was very important to include the neighboring counties. A lot of people come up from Traverse City and Benzie County to spend the day at our beaches,” Lerchen said.
Council members hoped to recoup some beach maintenance costs by implementing the parking fee. They planned to put a fee collecting machine in the parking lot this summer for a free 90-day trial period.
It will be difficult to install the machine at the beginning of the summer now that the paid parking decision has been delayed, Carpenter said.
Carpenter opposed parking fees from the beginning.
“I’m concerned that it will have a negative impact on businesses,” Carpenter said. “Nobody has any way of guaranteeing it will not, and it will be perceived as unfriendly.”
She said she would suggest parking attendants hand out a donation envelope instead.
Village officials will revisit the issue at their next meeting on May 27.