A small fee for hourly parking has turned into a big issue for the Town of Banff.

A petition is now circulating in the townsite to force council to reverse its decision on paid parking.

Starting Aug. 1 the town will start charging parking fees at five downtown surface lots. It's only a three-month pilot project, but it has stirred up a lot of controversy in the town within Banff National Park.

Alanna Pettigrew, with the group Banff Residents against Paid Parking, attended a heated public meeting this week where the issue was raised.

 Pettigrew described the meeting between town officials and some residents as "emotionally charged." 

"They do not feel that they've had adequate public consultation, if any, and I think that's why we've had these emotions running high," Pettigrew said in an interview on CBC Radio's The Calgary Eyeopener.

Pettigrew's group is behind the petition. She said they have collected 1,370 signatures from people demanding the parking plan be scrapped.

To be eligible to sign, people had to be residents of the town for at least one day, she said.

Banff Mayor links lack of parking with congestion problems 

Under the pilot project, parking rates will be $2 per hour from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., seven days a week at the five lots. 

"We did a transportation master plan that studied both traffic flow and parking challenges in the town, and part of the parking issue of course ties to the congestion issue," Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said.

"We know there are people driving in circles for extended periods of time, looking for parking."

But Pettigrew argues there is no correlation between paid parking and congestion.

"We do not see that as a solution to ease the congestion," said Pettigrew. "It will simply be a money grab for people coming to the park that are already paying to enjoy the park."

People visiting Banff National Park must already purchase a park pass for their vehicles.

Pettigrew suggests the town look at other remedies, such as hiring people to direct traffic when congestion builds up, or build a new parkade.

Town officials says the paid stalls represent only 17 per cent of the available parking in Banff . A large majority of the public parking spots will remain free. 

The pilot project on paid parking at the five lots runs until Oct. 31. After that, the results will be evaluated, council says.