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Congestion committee preps parking agreement

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

The Holmes Beach congestion committee is almost ready with a parking agreement for properties interested in serving as part-time overflow parking areas.

The committee met Oct. 28 and reviewed a preliminary agreement drafted by city attorney Patricia Petruff at the behest of the committee.

Committee member Bob Johnson said the agreement appeared “pretty straightforward” in presenting it to the membership for review. “It’s important that if there are any things we see, such as omissions or overstatements, that we identify them. We need to agree that we have something to move forward with.”

According to the agreement language, if approved, the city would provide trash receptacles, law enforcement patrols and signage directing motorists to available parking lots.

The business and/or church would agree to the use of the parking lot, be responsible for maintenance and could install a donation box.

The donation box became key for involvement after the committee learned a church on St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota allows visistors to the popular shopping destination to use their parking lot. The church said it brings in about $10,000 a year in donations.

Only one area of the agreement raised concern. The “owner” would be responsible to secure its lot during any periods when public parking would not be allowed.

Committee members suggested the word “secure” may not be the best word choice, as it implies sealing off the parking lot.

Committee member Terry Davidson suggested striking the word and instead include language that signs would be placed stating, “No Parking,” on the days it was not available for beach visitors.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer suggested the language be clarified by Petruff before the committee presents its agreement to the commission. Tokajer said that could be accomplished before the committee’s Nov. 12 meeting.

A lot of ideas have been on the committee’s table. Among those ideas are to change traffic flow at the Manatee Public Beach to create a passenger drop-off area where motorists could drop family members and beach gear, and then drive to an off-site parking lot.

Tokajer said city staff is working with Manatee County staff to come up with a traffic plan, but the project wasn’t looking good. However, he said the city and county are working together to come up with a plan that will “overhaul parking at the beach.”

Included in that plan is for the county to remove its equipment from the southeast area of the parking lot to free up what is estimated to be dozens more parking spaces.

Tokajer also is in discussion with the U.S. Coast Guard, which is responsible for the draw bridges on Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road.

From January through June, the bridge tenders raise the draw on demand on a 30-minute schedule to allow boat traffic to pass through. From July through December, the timeframe for allowed openings is on a 20-minute cycle.

Tokajer is suggesting 30-minute openings year-round, which he said would help alleviate congestion by shortening the number of times that the bridges rise, stopping traffic onto and off the island.

Tokajer said the Coast Guard is in favor of the idea, but it needs an official request from the city. The chief has presented the idea to the commission as a preliminary suggestion and on receiving the go ahead, he will present an official request to the Coast Guard.

Tokajer said it also would be contingent on Bradenton Beach agreeing to the plan.

He said it would likely take about six months of pushing paperwork through the appropriate channels.

Tokajer received some quick opposition from building official Tom O’Brien when he presented his idea to the commission at an Oct. 24 work session. O’Brien said vessels on the Intracoastal Waterway have priority over motorists.

O’Brien said it was a safety issue and that it was harder for a vessel to maintain course in the current of the channel than it is for motorists to stop for the drawbridge.

The committee also is garnering support for its efforts from Josh Pettit, who runs a smartphone app site titled QRHop.com.

Pettit has working apps in place for the island already and is updating an app that would allow the city to incorporate information on off-site parking areas for app users.

He also is digitizing the trolley route, “so you can view all stops.” He also said the app will locate where the user is in relation to the trolley stops.”

QRHop.com is active now and will feature a Facebook-style comment section for people using the app to visit island restaurants and businesses. While the site is up and running, Pettit plans to have the “main launch” sometime in November.

“Once we have this second version going, it will allow real-time data for parking availability,” said Pettit.

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