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HB parking solutions focus on overflow opportunities

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Comedian Billy Connolly once told an audience that he didn’t have a guardian angel. He instead had a parking angel.

“It’s on my dashboard and you wind it up,” he said. “The wings flap and it’s supposed to give you a parking space.”

Anyone trying to find a parking space on Anna Maria Island during season or on a holiday weekend knows parking angels are few and far between, but answers continue to be sought.

Developing overflow parking opportunities in Holmes Beach is an idea gaining traction. It dominated the Sept. 16 conversation at the Holmes Beach Committee on Traffic and Parking meeting.

Committee members have been in discussion with four churches in the city to use parking lots on days when the church has no activities, and banks that close on Sundays also are being considered as parking alternatives.

CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, already has opened its parking lot for visitors on Saturdays and signs on Gulf Drive already welcome people to use the 100-plus available parking spaces to park and ride the trolley.

The church’s location near a trolley stop makes it an ideal parking area for visitors, according to the committee, and member Peggy Davenport said other Holmes Beach churches appear willing to work with the city, with the exception of St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive.

“St. Bernard is not very open to much of anything, but maybe if they see it working in other places perhaps that will change,” said Davenport.

The committee views St. Bernard ideal due to its size and proximity to Manatee Public Beach.

Davenport said she has been in contact with a church on St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota that opens its parking lot to the public and she learned the church collects more than $10,000 a year from donations.

Committee member Bob Johnson said discussions with churches seem favorable, but he wants the concept of overflow parking to expand beyond churches.

The discussion turned toward Mayor Carmel Monti’s concept of a parking garage at or near the public beach.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss it, but we are covering the particulars with Manatee County,” said Monti.

During public comment, Alex Richardson suggested the city focus efforts on making use of all available public parking before pushing parking onto the church lots. He suggested directing excess beachgoers to Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

It was a suggestion made at the first committee meeting in August, and was not received well by Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy, who said the city has its own parking and traffic concerns.

Bradenton Beach is reviewing a proposed parking plan that would put to use the large lots at Coquina Beach to address parking in the business district.

“However, all three cities are working together,” said committee chair and Holmes Beach commission candidate Carol Soustek. “We are trying to unify ourselves for the benefit of the whole island.”

“Let’s start small and see how it works,” said Soustek, noting CrossPointe, as well as Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church of Annunciation are good locations for their proximity to trolley stops. Church of Annunciation also is closer to the public beach than the Catholic church, which is a block or more from the nearest trolley stop.

Soustek said the committee should concentrate on how to inform people and direct people to available parking.

Opposition already has been raised by neighbors of CrossPointe, who said issues could arise from people walking through their neighborhood, where there are no amenities —public restrooms.

Soustek said solutions are possible, and “all of us are going to have something to gripe about. But we aren’t going to solve a thing until we can alleviate the lack of control of who parks where.”

Johnson said the committee shouldn’t limit a plan to one test site, but should get as many churches, businesses and organizations on board as soon as possible.

Discussion on shared parking with Anna Maria Elementary School also is ongoing and the committee’s preference is to open as much overflow parking as possible within walking distance of the public beach.

Discussion then turned to directing visitors to parking areas. Soustek said an idea is in the works to have visitors tune into a radio station that would guide them to parking areas, inform them of parking lot statuses and advise on congestion problems.

Monti said there is also an idea to develop an AMI parking app for smartphones.

He said other ideas will be addressed following a soon-to-be-concluded traffic analysis. Among those suggestions are one-way traffic on some streets during season and roundabouts.

“Nothing is set in stone,” said Soustek. “These are still ideas. You can see how many tentacles there are to each idea. We don’t want to hurt one area or one street, but all of us have to give up something to fix this problem.”

The committee meets every other Monday and is next scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 30, at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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