It may only have been a handshake, but a deal is a deal.
And the deal with Grace United Church on Victoria Street over parking spaces, even if only verbal, should be respected, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
In response to a request from Grace United Church members for a reserved space for the minister and three parking spaces in front of the church to be enforced as belonging to the church, councillors have agreed to help ease their parking difficulties.
But the majority of council did not agree with the staff report that the church pay for those parking spaces.
The church had installed four signs, one reserving a parking spot for the minister, the other three reserved for one-hour parking for church members, based on what church representatives thought was an agreement with the town forty years ago. Councilllors told them in December they couldn’t use those signs until council had a staff report and a vote to support the use of those signs, which have remained covered since.
But because town staff could find no documented evidence that, as the church had suggested, the town had agreed to those parking spaces for the church decades ago, the staff report recommended the church would have to pay for the parking spots.
In past times, it was not unusual for municipal agreements to be confirmed with a handshake, said Disero.
“I really believe when you give your word, you give your word,” said Disero, adding she believed the town and church had come to the agreement of parking spaces in the 1960s.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that an agreement was made with the church, in good faith, and we should honour that agreement.”
On Monday, she suggested an amendment to the motions councillors approved, which was to lease the four spaces to the church for $1, with third party responsibility for insurance, permitting and enforcement, and council approved.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor agreed with Disero about the cost, referring at the planning committee meeting, reminding councillors that Mary Snider, a member of the church in the 1960s “who has a room named after her in the Virgil arena,” remembered that parking spaces were reserved for the church.
Just because written documents couldn’t be located, doesn’t mean an agreement didn’t exist, said O’Connor.
It was suggested construction trucks and others who use the spaces could be ticketed, but continue to park there all day, so town staff proposed the parking be allowed for one hour only.
It encourage parking turnover, allowing some parking for businesses in the area and give church members there during the week on church business an opportunity to use the space.
“I’m disappointed to hear about the importance of parking turnover,” said Coun. Clare Cameron.
“Churches are a major part of what remains to help stitch people together, and connect people,” encouraging a sense of community.
“I’m extremely supportive of this. Churches are facing enough challenges as it is,” adding the parking spaces are “a simple ask.”
The approval of the signs provides a solution to problems that go back to the building of the church in a location that has no property for parking.
When church trustee David Gilchrist asked council for some help with the situation in December, going over some of the history of parking issues, he was told a report would be prepared for council, who would make a decision on the spaces.
The church members had decided to install the signs reserving parking spaces based on what they thought was a decision made years ago, although they didn’t feel they needed to put the signs up until recently.
Instead, the town asked that the signs be bagged until council could deal with the issue.
For new people coming to town, staff at local businesses, the hotel, store and condominium construction workers, and even the immediate residents of nearby apartments, the unsigned spaces intended for the church had become free parking, sometimes for the entire day, overnight and for the weekend, Gilchrist said.
Accessibility to the church became increasingly difficult for some of the older members, especially those with disability issues, with the one spot well-marked in front of a wheelchair ramp often taken.
The agreement approved by council Monday formalizes an arrangement made 55 to 60 years ago, when things were much simpler, said Gilchrist.
He especially liked Cameron’s sentiments expressed last week, regarding community social interactions, specifically around Grace United, being more important than parking turnover.
“It’s a beautiful place and I think it’s really important that as part of a complete community, it’s important we have things going on in the Old Town aside from shopping and commercial activities,” Cameron said.
Gilchrist is relieved there is no one-hour parking restriction, which wouldn’t work for church members or any of the groups who use the church regularly.
Staff seemed to be more concerned about a business across the street that has only been open a short time, rather than an institution that has been located in the centre of the Old Town for well over a century and a half, said Gilchrist.