Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn told commissioners at their July 25 meeting that the growing influx to the city of visitors on weekends and holidays is threatening residents’ quality of life, and many have told her they will move unless the city resolves the issue.
The mayor said the problem is severe on weekends and holidays, and the day visitors also put a strain on the city’s infrastructure.
The mayor said it’s not the people who come for stays in accommodations of a week or longer, but the large number of day visitors who apparently ignore the city’s parking regulations and other codes, leave trash on the beach, and often park in a residential driveway or block driveways.
SueLynn said the city requested the Florida Department of Transportation post a traffic counter at the city entrance from July 3-9 and 51,857 cars entered the city during the six-day period, which included a parade through the city and July 4 fireworks celebration.
“Obviously, there was more than one person per car, but figure two people per car. That’s more than 100,000 people coming to our city in a six-day period,” she said. That’s about 16,500 people each of those days.
Granted that was during a holiday period, but the mayor said the traffic is typical of what she’s seen on most weekends and holidays with good weather.
All of this for a city of about 1,500 people, she noted.
“And the daytrippers are all trying to find a parking space,” the mayor added.
“I don’t like the idea of paid parking, but it may be an answer. I’m proud that everything is free, but this heavy influx every weekend and holiday is wearing on our residents’ nerves and infrastructure,” she said.
It’s time for the commission to consider paid parking for day visitors, no parking in the rights of way, or a combination, she said.
“Other Florida resort cities have paid parking or no right-of-way parking,” she said. Allowing visitors to park in the rights of way has resulted in destruction of many drainage swales that the city must maintain.
The mayor noted the city gets no revenue from the bed tax other than beach renourishment funds. Yet the city still has to maintain its roads and infrastructure and keep streets free of trash.
Beach renourishment funding also is dependent on the city maintaining a certain amount of public parking.
“I struggle daily with this idea of paid parking, but we get nothing from these day visitors. They come here and have a wonderful time and leave, but they abuse the very things they come here for,” she said.
Commission Chair Chuck Webb said this is the start of a long brainstorming process. Commissioner Dale Woodland agreed, saying he’s talked to many people who have said the same things as the mayor.
“But we have to establish our goals first. We won’t be productive if we start on details tonight,” Woodland said.
Commissioner Gene Aubry said the city has been “too nice” in the past, often issuing parking warnings for violations instead of a ticket. He said he grew up in Galveston, Texas, where cars were towed or a boot was used to lock the wheel and prevent the car from moving until the fine was paid. And the parking fines were a lot more than the $30 that Anna Maria charges, he said. Charge a hefty parking fine or tow vehicles and see how fast the problem is solved, he suggested.
“But Dale is right. We first need a concept. We have to deal with tourism. No matter what we do, we are going to rub someone the wrong way,” Aubry said.
Woodland said the daytripper issue has only surfaced in the past few years as Manatee County and surrounding areas have grown significantly in popularity. This is the first year, he said, he’s observed a real problem with people parking in private driveways.
The solution won’t be difficult, Woodland said, but getting there will be the difficulty. There will be criticism from many on the mainland if the city institutes a form of paid parking, he said.
Webb said Anna Maria doesn’t have to accept what everybody else thinks or wants the city to do. “It’s our city. It’s stated in our comp plan we are a residential city. We have a duty to protect our city, despite what others might think.”
Webb said some form of paid parking seems to be the only solution for the problem.
But he agreed to set goals and objectives first. He suggested that from commission discussion, the goals be to generate revenue, control where people park and not over-use the city’s resources. The objective of the solution is to preserve Anna Maria’s way of life. Commissioners agreed with Webb’s basic goals and objective.
SueLynn will have staff study various options and bring them to the commission for discussion. At that time, commissioners can agree to meet weekly to find a solution, Webb said. He advised commissioners and the attendees at the meeting that the solution will not be easy and there will always be someone who complains. The commission just has to “bite the bullet,” he said.