It was like something right out of the opening scene of Paul Newman’s 1967 classic ‘Cool Hand Luke.’

Last fall, vandals managed to knock the tops off nearly 100 parking meters in downtown Nanaimo.

Instead of repairing the damage, the city simply made parking in the area free of charge.

“When I saw that you didn’t have to pay, I was like that’s freaking sweet because I very rarely have change,” said Arie Bonsar, a Nanaimo resident.

“I’m okay with it,” said Andrea Turchanski, also a Nanaimo resident. “I’ve never been a fan of having to pay to park.”

But a number of business owners say the city’s good deed has had unintended consequences

“It turned into people parking for free all day,” said Marc Fillion, Mambo Pizza’s owner. “Lots of employees that were paying for parking in parking lots started, and I don’t blame them, started parking for free on-street parking and it’s really affected the amount of customers we have downtown.”

Marc Fillion says customers tell him they can’t stop off at this pizzeria because they can’t find a place to park.

He sees some cars parked in the same spots for more than eight hours at a time so he’s complained to the city.

“Definitely, we’ve lost business over it. I think every business downtown has lost business over it,” said Fillion. “You don’t have to be a genius to realize if anyone drives around three or four times, they may give up and choose another option.”

On Tuesday, a city committee recommended parking be limited to two hours and signs be installed to let drivers know.

“Those businesses operating downtown, contributing to our tax base, employing people deserve to have customers who can park near their stores, get served and then move on,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog.

The signs will cost the city $17,500 and should be installed within weeks.

They’re an interim measure as council awaits a comprehensive study on downtown parking.

It’s a good first step, says Fillion, as long as the city enforces the new rules.

Kendall Hanson