Holmes Beach congestion committee sets goals, pursues action

From purchasing property for a fee-based parking lot to reconfiguring parking and traffic flow at the Manatee Public Beach, Holmes Beach congestion committee members are kicking ideas into high gear.

The committee previously focused on the use of off-site parking lots as a way to address overflow and encourage visitors to the beach to use the trolley system by asking churches, banks and other organizations to open their parking lots on weekends and holidays.

The effort has been hit and miss, with some organizations wanting to participate, others declining and some waiting to see what an agreement with the city would be like.

Committee member Bob Johnson said having an agreement on paper was a priority in order to present something more than speculation to church adminsitrators and business operators.

Mayor Carmel Monti, who is not a member of the committee but sits in on the meetings, said city attorney Patricia Petruff is working on an agreement.

Johnson said he would follow up with Petruff to see if a draft agreement could be presented to the committee at the next meeting.

Johnson presented a six-point priority list that he said needs to be addressed in order for the committee to move forward. Having a written agreement was No. 1.

He also listed how to direct visitors to parking lots away from the beach with signs, smartphone applications and radio messages.

Monti said he is working with a company that provides phone apps for 1,800 cities and is trying to find out how he could include Holmes Beach in the company’s services. The service allows use of an app that could show real-time parking availability on the island and direct visitors to those parking lots.

Committee chair and commission candidate Carol Soustek is working with a radio station on how to implement an informational radio broadcast and committee member Pam Leckie volunteered to work on signage.

Other priorities include establishing a success measurement program to see what works if or when the city adopts any of the committee’s recommendations.

Discussion on traffic flow was addressed by Police Chief Bill Tokajer, who said he is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to use the existing electronic sign near 75th Street and Cortez Road in Bradenton.

The sign has not been used in quite some time, but still works. Tokajer said FDOT has no problem with the city sending brief messages such as “Heavy island congestion” or “Parking lots full.”

Discussion about enhancing Manatee County Area Transit services for beachgoers from the mainland to the island is ongoing, but some officials say it won’t work because people who go to the beach typically bring along a lot of beach gear. Parking on the mainland and taking a bus with a lot of “stuff” would be problematic for passengers on a beach shuttle.

The committee turned its attention to the creation of a drop-off point at the county-operated Manatee Public Beach to allow motorists to unload beach gear and passengers and then park off-site.

Tokajer said that was something he could do without commission approval. He offered to present a concept plan to the committee, possibly at its next meeting.

In the meantime, the effort to work with organizations that would allow parking on private property on weekends and holidays is ongoing.

The committee then turned its attention to a suggestion from resident Jaynie Christiansen, who said the city should invest in property for beach parking.

Discussion ensued on Regions Bank, 3900 Sixth Ave., which is currently shuttered.

Soustek said she attempted to contact Regions to inquire about the property’s value.

“I called three times and nobody called me back,” she said.

However, the committee found the suggestion viable and pledged to pursue the idea.

All ideas are being considered when taking into account FDOT numbers provided by Johnson from a 2012 report that counted an average daily number of 7,200 vehicles traveling on and off the island.

That number doubles on holidays, such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, which are considered to be the busiest times of the year on the island.

“The reality is we have a community that is dealing with a disruption from a way of life,” said Johnson.

“The best way to find success in what we are trying to do is to work with the other island cities and unify,” said Soustek. “Even though we are not making progress as quickly as everyone would like, we are making progress. And that’s important to the citizens of Holmes Beach.”

The island congestion committee’s next meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 14, at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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