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Jitney shuttle service will start soon

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Saul Perlmutter, a noted American scientist who gained fame and accolades for his work in studying the universe once said, “The one achievement everyone can look forward to is getting the perfect parking spot.”

For the person who has an understanding of unlimited space, parking issues, especially for drivers visiting and living on Anna Maria Island, bring everyone to common ground.

Parking issues and potential solutions were discussed at the March 15 Bradenton Beach city commission meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall.

Two options were highlighted. The first came with an announcement from the Bridge Street Merchants Association, whose members will move forward with a planned jitney shuttle system, taking people from Coquina Beach to Bridge Street and back. The second was an approval from the commissioners for a temporary-use permit to the Bridge Street Bistro for valet parking.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh, a liaison to the Bridge Street Merchants, announced that the jitney service appears to be “moving forward.”

BSM representative Jo Ann Meilner said the plan is to designate two drop-off locations, complete with signage letting visitors know they can take the jitney from the beach to Bridge Street and catch a ride back when they are done with their visit.

“All it really will be is using golf carts to transport people from the beach, where there is ample public parking, and bring them to Bridge Street,” she said. “We’ll start with two locations, one at the beach and one on Bridge Street. What we hope to do is get a couple of golf carts just to get it started, and if it works, we will expand.”

Meilner said the merchants are looking into insurance requirements, and have found a company that customizes golf carts.

“If we end up expanding, we’ll customize the golf carts to look just like the trolleys,” she said. “As soon as we check on the insurance, we hope to start this within a few weeks.”

At the same time, the Bridge Street Bistro is proposing to implement a temporary valet parking service to help alleviate parking issues on Bridge Street.

Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert said the restaurant has submitted a traffic plan, but there were concerns.

Bridge Street Bistro planner Bruce Franklin presented the plan on behalf of the restaurant owners to address the city’s concerns.

Franklin said a circular pattern of traffic flow would be implemented, with use of a nearby lot where hired valets would park the cars.

“We’re confident that we have plenty of space to do this, and we will be using a professional valet service,” said Franklin. “(Traffic) backup is a concern, but it’s a mute issue because it can happen on any given day. People are getting more discombobulated (looking for parking) than if you would have an organized, professional service.”

Franklin argued that a professional valet service would not increase traffic concerns, but would decrease them. Bridge Street Bistro will be paying $1,500 a month to lease the vacant lot, as well as paying for the valet service.

And the service is not planned to provide only for the restaurant.

Franklin said the valet service would be available for anyone wishing to peruse Bridge Street businesses.

“Anyone who wants to use it, can,” he said. “It’s not just for Bridge Street Bistro. Parking is probably something you see on your agenda every week, and we are trying to do something to alleviate that. I think it will be a benefit not only to our business, but the area as well, and at no cost to the city.”

Franklin didn’t convince all of the commissioners that the traffic-flow plan would work. Both Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Ric Gatehouse expressed concerns.

“I have a problem with this,” said Shaughnessy. “It’s a very, very short distance from the roundabout to the entrance where you want to go. My biggest concern is there will be stacked cars on Gulf Drive and we can’t have that.”

The commissioners discussed the issue further and came to a consensus to approve the permit, but for 30 days instead of the requested 90 days. The commissioners felt more comfortable testing the service for a shorter time and agreed to revisit the issue in a month to see if it’s working as planned.

Commissioner Gay Breuler motioned to approve the temporary-use permit for 30 days, which passed 3-1. Shaughnessy, Vosburgh and Breuler voted for the permit, while Gatehouse voted against it. Vice Mayor Ed Straight was excused from the March 15 meeting.

Whether the permit is extended for future use or not, it cannot be permanent, according to Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert, who explained that such a service that creates a parking lot is against the city’s comprehensive plan.

“It’s not a grant of rights to develop rights as a parking lot,” said Gilbert. “It’s the same as granting a flea market to operate on a piece of property not zoned for it. It’s temporary.”

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