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Pier, business success stresses AM parking needs

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Anna Maria City Pier Restaurant leaseholder Mario Schoenfelder speaks to Anna Maria commissioners, including SueLynn, right, at their April 12 meeting of unforeseen parking problems at the pier and along Pine Avenue created by the success of the pier boardwalk and the Pine Avenue business district. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Anna Maria commissioners, Mayor Mike Selby, city staff and experts spent nearly two years creating a parking plan for Pine Avenue that they hoped would satisfy the parking needs of everyone.

That plan, however, was developed before the success was known following completion of the boardwalk at the city pier, the Pine Avenue business district grew, the new beach by the city pier was created, and the overall tourism marketing of Anna Maria Island resulted in a record tourist season this year.

Parking is again a problem in the city, particularly on Pine Avenue and at the City Pier Restaurant.

Roger Roark of the Roser Community Memorial Church told commissioners at their April 12 meeting that the three church parking lots are filling up almost daily with tourists, often leaving churchgoers to find an alternate parking location.

“We don’t know these people and there is a liability. We are getting people who park there all day,” Roark said.

“We don’t want to chain the lot, so we’re bringing it to the city to try and work together for an agreement. We want to be good neighbors,” he said.

Roark said this past winter season has been the worst for visitors parking in the church-owned lots.

City pier leaseholder and restaurant-operator Mario Schoenfelder said parking has become a problem at the pier, largely because of the success of the new boardwalk and the Pine Avenue business district.

He pays rent for a number of spaces at the pier, yet he still has customers complain they couldn’t find a parking spot.

Schoenfelder asked commissioners to reconsider their prior decision to close the lots across from the pier to parking May 7.

Pier restaurant manager Dave Sork said the pier, boardwalk and Pine Avenue have made Anna Maria extremely attractive to vacationers and visitors.

“We’re getting squeezed out. I suggest adding angle parking at the city lots. You could still build a park there and have parking,” said Sork.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb said the city went through two years of deliberations about Pine Avenue parking. “Roser was never mentioned as an issue. There was supposed to be enough parking on Pine Avenue.”

There is, replied Mike Coleman of Pine Avenue Restoration LLC, developer of a number of businesses and rental properties on Pine Avenue. “It’s just that everybody wants to park as close to the pier as possible,” he said.

Coleman said he saw many days this past season when a number of Pine Avenue parking spaces were vacant, while the pier parking lot and nearby areas were full.

Selby said he’s talked to Ed Chiles of the Sandbar Restaurant and they may have a solution.

Under Chiles’ plan, Pine Avenue and Gulf Drive merchants would contribute $1,500 monthly to Roser for use of its parking lot on the south side of Pine Avenue at the church thrift shop. That would relieve Roser of the liability.

Roark said that would work for the church, although the church does not want to be in the paid parking business.

Selby said neither does the city, and suggested if the Chiles’ idea is adopted, “free parking” signs could be placed at the lot.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick suggested the city lease the lot from the church, then sub-lease it to the collective merchants.

“It’s only during the season we have these problems, but this year was exceptional for tourism,” she observed.

Webb said with the season winding down, the city would have time to deal with the parking issue and be ready for next season.

Commissioner Dale Woodland agreed.

Although he previously objected to public parking on the city property, he had no problem with keeping the vacant lots open to parking after May 7. “This gives us time to do something and not make the situation worse” by next season, he said.

Selby said he would coordinate with Chiles and the church on leasing the lot to the city, and give the details to city attorney Jim Dye for legal review.

Webb suggested commissioners observe parking at the pier, the city lots, Roser Church and along Pine Avenue for the next two weeks and report at the commission’s April 26 meeting.

“There’s never been this much of a parking issue before,” he said. “I think it’s seasonal. Let’s make sure there is a problem now,” he said.

Commissioners agreed they had time to determine a rational solution before the next tourism season.

A number of other issues will be discussed at the April 26 meeting, including Commissioner SueLynn’s concerns about parking on streets that adjoin Pine Avenue.

Another issue for the April 26 agenda will be how city codes should be applied to property rentals.

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