Whether it is within the commission chambers, in collaboration with others or individually, Holmes Beach elected officials continue to push for answers to the complicated problem of island traffic congestion.
Commission Chair Jean Peelen met with Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker July 9 and reported the results of that conversation to the commission later that day at a city meeting.
“I see it as a two-part problem,” said Peelen. “We are maxed out on conventional tourists and it’s a great strain on the city. Secondly, day-trippers from local areas and nearby counties are overwhelming our beaches and creating problems,” including noise, trash and trespassing.
Peelen said the discussion with Hunzeker traversed subjects such as paid parking, paid trolleys, the creation of party buses and water-taxi services.
“I told him it’s going to take a whole recipe of different ways to address the problems,” she said.
Permit-restricted parking in certain residential areas also was discussed, as city officials look at taking action at the local level.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer’s department has been proactive in providing better enforcement for illegal parking, but commissioners say it’s time to have parking tickets have more impact to people who ignore “No Parking” signs.
Tokajer, who joined officers on patrol during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, told commissioners he was approached by a man who claimed to own the vehicle he was ticketing.
“He asked me if I was writing him a parking ticket and I told him that he was parked in front of a ‘No Parking’ sign. He asked me how much the ticket was and I told him $20. He said, ‘Great, I’ll stay all day.’”
It’s a common reaction from drivers who consider a $20 parking ticket to be no different from the cost to attend a sporting event and pay for parking.
Mayor Carmel Monti has directed the police department to be proactive in enforcing illegal parking and commissioners have discussed raising the fine.
Commissioners did not settle July 9 on an increase, but parking fines are expected to more than double.
Peelen said the discussion with Hunzeker was a positive conversation that included approaching the Manatee County Tourist Development Council to stop advertising the island as a haven for renters.
Commissioner Judy Titsworth said it has created a cycle where the successful advertising campaign creates more bed tax, which creates more money for advertising.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino said he would not be in favor of paid parking at the beaches.
“It hasn’t solved the problem in Clearwater, Sanibel and Captiva,” he said. “They are still overwhelmed with tourists. Ed is a business guy like me and he sees the dollar signs. If you charge for parking, we aren’t going to get the money. The county will.”
Zaccagnino said TDC advertising needs to focus more on promoting the park-and-ride systems and, if the city chooses to charge parking at the county beaches, it risks losing future beach renourishment funding.
Titsworth noted the TDC received $139,000 in May in bed taxes from the island alone.
“The secret is out,” she said. “Our only hope is that people who were stuck in traffic for an hour and a half this weekend will get so discouraged they will go somewhere else.”
But it wasn’t only tourists stuck in parking, as island residents say they attempted to cope with ways to get to stores and restaurants on back roads with little success.
Monti said efforts need to remain focused on solutions instead of complaints. In regards to charging for parking and trolleys, he said, “There is no reason why we need to be free, our beaches need to be free and our trolleys need to be free.”
Consensus was that island residents would be exempt from paying parking fees.
Gallery speakers agreed that something should be done. Resident Pam Lecke also expressed concern at the meeting over the island’s future.
“I know of six houses in my neighborhood up for sale,” she said. “What is going to happen to our churches, our school and our community? There is always change, but you can have change with reason.”
Resident Andy Sheridan — an MCAT employee and trolley driver — said a free bus system from the mainland would not bring the kind of visitors the island wants, and pointed to the free Sunday mainland-beach bus runs sponsored by the county.
“If you ever took a ride on that bus, you’ll see why no one from Lakewood Ranch wants to ride it,” he said. “The free bus stops in downtown Bradenton and picks up a population that takes advantage of any free facility and they go into our stores and shoplift.”
Commissioners pledged to continue their discussion with other island officials and county officials.
Monti said he would meet with the other island mayors to discuss traffic issues, and that the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials should keep traffic congestion as a primary topic of conversation.