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Anna Maria mayor says visitors threaten quality of life

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

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.

20 Responses to Anna Maria mayor says visitors threaten quality of life

  1. Ben Hardin says:

    Those that do not want to live on a vacation island should move. Paid parking will not stop people from coming to the public areas, where they have every right to be.

  2. Toby Egan says:

    So, it’s all the visitors’ fault that the island is overcrowded with visitors and traffic is a nightmare. Not the fault of those who live and own businesses on the island and have promoted the island as a great place to visit. Not the fault of those in local government who have let the destruction of the quality of life of the residents and long term visitors be destroyed over the last few years by over promotion and a free-for-all by developers.
    It’s interesting to read that tourist revenues are up and businesses have never done better than they’re doing today thanks to the visitors who come to the island.
    Guess you can’t have it both ways folks. For what it’s worth, the resident’s quality of life thing is history. The damage has been done by self the interests of the local politicians, developers and business people. The island will continue to lose its residents and the peaceful setting that it was once known for will soon only be a memory. Those residents who voted for the politicians who let the genie out of the bottle are just as guilty and must share the blame for their own demise. They even ran the one politician who rang the warning bell a couple of years ago out of town.
    Next to jump ship are the long term renters who were drawn to a once quiet place for peace and relaxation.

    • Sandra mcDonald says:

      Well said and so sorry but this is true. I knew this would happen three years ago when they started promoting the island all over the place. They had paradise but the all mighty dollar won over once again. Sure hate to see it go. Who will pay the price? Those who come on vacation or winter on the island just to enjoy such a beautiful place. Also we winter residents who have been coming here 25 years and own property off the island. Sad!!!!!

      • bonnerj says:

        I wish someone would define what has been destroyed, because I’ve lived here 38 years and I still love living on Anna Maria Island EVERY DAY. Why do people have to be annoyed by kids playing in a pool, occasional traffic and waiting in line at Publix. Get over it. It’s still as beautiful as when I first arrived … sunrise to sunset to sunrise…. — Bonner

        • Ex Anna Maria resident says:

          Bonner if only what you said were true then I for one would not have moved away. Everything that Toby and Sandra says is true. Toby totally nailed it. Look at the people on the tourism board and then look and see how those same people are behind the biggest businesses on the island who stood to gain the most by the massive influx in tourism, They ran the guy who tried to hold them accountable out of town so big was the buck to them. Sadly the city officials who are trying to hold back the tide are woefully late. To now announce that the Comprehensive Plan states Anna Maria is a residential City?? Where was that mantra when they allowed all the commercial development? It has all been so very sad to watch and makes me very angry that the residents were and are being forced out. But to think any of this can be reversed is wishful thinking.

        • Jane Gartman says:

          The quality of life is what has been destroyed by the massive influx in visitors. The island bears no resemblance to the Island it was even 5 years ago never mind 38 years ago.

          • bonnerj says:

            What changed…? What destroyed your quality of life. I’d like to hear that from you and others, because my quality of life is the same as the first day I set foot on Anna Maria Island. My children have grown up and they still love it here — or so I think. My granddaughters do. Did you walk the beach, because it looks the same to me. Do you miss the old IGA or Island Foods, because I appreciate the variety, quality and cleanliness of Publix. Did you see a lack of programs offered at the community center? Did AME school fail in your expectations? Did fishing decline? What destroyed AMI in your opinion?

        • Ben Hardin says:

          I for one am sick of selfish people who think they own the island. They are against tourism, business, and fun in general. Maybe they should leave and we can get some new people that are able to share, enjoy, and have fun.

  3. Tracy Hall says:

    We have been visiting the Island since 1993 and the last couple of years we have noticed a massive increase in traffic . This year in May we spent 2 and a half hours trying to get back onto the island after going to Winter Gardens to visit friends. We feel that we have had the best years of the Island when we first visited as it was much quieter although I appreciate business prefer the Isalnd to be busy. In the early 90′s the Island was just heaven but now with the traffic you can feel imprisoned on the island as you are wary to move off it because of the long wait to get off and back on the Island. It’s still beautiful though but as a visitor it is a shame that it is now so popular.

    • bonnerj says:

      New people come to AMI and have no way of knowing that — in the not so distant past — the Palma Sola Causeway was so congested with people, parties and booze that it took more than an hour to get to and from the mainland to AMI. It ended abruptly when Bradenton outlawed alcohol on the causeway. But one way or the other, there’s always been a traffic problem. The parking on Manatee Avenue commenced when the recession brought people to the Manatee Public Beach in greater numbers … FREE vs. Disney. — Bonner

  4. Dennis Bristow says:

    We have been visiting The Island since 1986,always a great time interacting with the locals and permanent residents. The last few years we do not wander far from our property on Sat or Sun do to the congestion on the roads, Please consider the folks who come for a relaxing month or two vs the day visitor who comes to party and leave the beach and public areas in much worse condition. Take a look at Sanibel, they may have the right idea.Please take atep in the direction of keeping the Island tranquil and beautiful

  5. Mo Zeta says:

    It’s official! The Mayor is an idiot!

  6. SRK says:

    I have been coming to the island since I was 20 yrs old – 20 yrs. ago :( I remember when the IGA was a grocery store. I love AMI. My weeks there are always too short and the time between visits too long. But the island is not the same. I was there a week ago and both my husband and I agreed we may not visit much longer. I was shocked by the amount of trash I saw on the beach during my morning walks. The Segways are a sad reflection of society. The lack of concern by motorists to slow or stop when using the crosswalk. It all made me question my attachment to the island. I think the day the Sears house was moved to simply build another building just bigger and newer was the day the island lost its charm. The recent article putting AMI as the 5th best place to visit is the writing on the wall – it’s time to move on. Maybe in 20 years when I retire AMI will once again be unpopular. Good luck AMI.

  7. lilly says:

    I too was a long time renter, then homeowner, but sold in 2011 because we saw the writing on the wall. Many on here blame developer/business and I guess it some ways they are right because it was AMChamber who started marketing the island heavily. There was a time not long ago that even on a Saturday, you could still find parking spaces at the public beach. Now there are cars everywhere. I dont think anyone is complaining about visitors/renters — its the volume. Sadly it’s only going to get worse with 6 bedroom homes being built (with no parking to support), not for second resident but for investment. I guess thats progress. I’m happy that I along with my family were able to experience the island in quieter times. We have found another place that offers the solitude we once cherished AND that place will remain secret;). AMI, thank you for the memories.

  8. KansasCouple says:

    After our first visit to AMI in March ’13, we were impressed with the locals that we met and the communities of AM & HB. In fact, we were considering a permanent move as a possibility. Our return to AMI during the July 4th week had us rethinking this plan as we experienced the crush of traffic and flooded streets in HB nearly every day. We totally understood that this was one of the big holiday weeks for the island, but didn’t really grasp the limited traffic options and amount of traffic until we were actually part of it. Being week-long visitors makes us part of the problem, but it sounds like the hunger for more money has replace the once-serene ambiance of the island with a more tourist-oriented day-trip destination mentality. Reversing this trend will take at least as much time as it did to create it, and it will be more difficult. There are ways to maintain revenues while reducing traffic but it will be painful for the first year or so. As for us, were going to visit other potential communities before eliminating AMI from our list. Thanks to all of those we enjoyed meeting and hope to see you again sometime.

  9. JT says:

    Make Manatee Ave and Cortez toll bridges. At least make SOME revenue off of the day trippers

  10. Tony B. says:

    I moved down here to Manatee county 4 years ago. I’ve enjoyed going to the beach at AMI very much. We’ve spent thousands of dollars there over the years. Even got married on the beach and rented a beach house for the week.
    It is a great place to visit and love to eat at the Beach house and Sandbar and watch the sunset.

    But from what I’ve been reading maybe that will change now. I can go down 75 about 5 exits and go to Sarasota beach where we are wanted and spend my money there . If you snobs want to be alone maybe you should have moved to Nevada in the desert.

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