TRAVERSE CITY — Empire Village officials green-lighted a $1 per hour fee for beach parking.

Council members decided a month ago to move forward with the paid parking proposal, but plans stalled after village residents presented an anti-paid parking petition with more than 300 signatures from residents of Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Benzie counties.

The plan is back on track after a meeting Tuesday night, during which village residents presented their own pro-paid parking petition with more than 170 signatures.

“If I didn’t listen to that petition, I would be nuts,” said village council member Sam Barr, a staunch supporter of the parking fee.

Village officials initially planned to install a parking machine with a 90-day free trial, but since they delayed the decision the trial period is up in the air. They budgeted $16,000 for the machine and another $5,000 for supplies, such as stickers for township residents and paper in the machine, said Sue Carpenter, the village president.

Members of the business community voiced opposition to the fees, which they worry will deter tourists.

“It casts a negative image on our village, which has always been welcoming of visitors,” said Beryl Skrocki, an owner of Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak and an Empire resident. “There are so many other paces people can go, and they’ll go there and they won’t come into our village and support our businesses.”

Village officials hope parking fees will make up for some of the money spent on beach maintenance each year. There’s no way to determine exactly how much money that is because all of the village’s parks are lumped together as a budget item, and the items included in the parks budget vary from year-to-year, said Darlene Friend, the village deputy clerk.

Beach goers would have to pay for the 87 parking spots closest to the beach. Empire village and township residents would be able to park there for free.

Carpenter said officials hope to get the machine installed as soon as possible.

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