A beachgoer exits a bus at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. Officials want to encourage off-site beach parking and bus use with the busy tourist season ahead. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Seeking ways to gain use of more parking for visitors to the Manatee Public Beach appears to be the focus for Holmes Beach’s congestion committee.
The committee has focused on two primary issues in attempting to resolve traffic congestion and parking issues in the city: The creation of off-site beach parking and expanding parking and improving traffic flow at the main beach, Manatee Public Beach at 4000 Gulf Drive.
The committee all but finalized the terms of an agreement at its Nov. 12 that would establish shared parking terms at churches and businesses for beach overflow parking. The agreement must first be approved by the city commission.
With the details of the agreement in place, committee member Bob Johnson said the next step is establishing whether the committee or the city will negotiate the agreement with the subject property owners.
Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti, who regularly attends the congestion committee meetings, recommended that the committee take on that responsibility.
Johnson expressed concern that once the agreement is approved by the commission, there may be some factors that a church or business would want to add or change to fit specific needs.
Monti suggested that the committee draft a proposal that includes the agreement and outlines what the city has tentatively agreed to do, such as purchasing and installing signage.
He said to include as much information as possible in one sweeping proposal and he would seek to have it placed on a city commission agenda as soon as possible.
Johnson said he would draft the document and include a publicity plan and signage to get people to the overflow parking lots.
“It is my hope to have this plan in place and operating by Feb. 1,” said Johnson.
Committee chair Carol Soustek said it’s a realistic target date.
Public beach parking
The committee is awaiting a proposal from building official Tom O’Brien on how to reconfigure parking at the public beach, as well as creating a passenger drop-off lane, per Manatee County’s approval.
A drop-off lane would provide an opportunity for motorists to drop off passengers and beach gear and then park either at the beach or at an overflow site.
Police Chief Bill Tokajer, an adviser to the committee, said the study should be done soon for the committee’s review.
The number of parking spaces at the beach is estimated to be about 400. Under the right design and circumstances, as many as 200 additional spaces could be provided, according to Soustek.
“I saw a tentative outlay and it looks wonderful,” she said, noting she has an appointment with a valet company to discuss how a valet service could benefit their parking plans.
Committee members discussed a valet lot, which would condense parking, allowing even more public parking.
Monti said city officials also have reviewed aerial photos of the parking lot and believe an additional 50 parking spaces could be added by realigning the existing parking spaces.
The committee also is in discussion with the county to store existing equipment at the north end of the parking lot elsewhere, creating more room for parking.
In other matters, Soustek placed on the agenda her possible replacement as chair.
“I put this on here for two reasons,” she said. “One is because a member called for my resignation. The other is because I was running for commissioner and, had I won, I would have had to resign.”
Soustek, however, lost in the Nov. 5 election.
Johnson called for her resignation in an October email expressing frustration over the committee’s lack of action.
Soustek said if it was the committee’s desire, she would step down.
“I like to go with the flow,” said Soustek. “I like for meetings to be open and friendly, so you get a lot of input from people.”
Other committee members, including Johnson, said everyone has their own way of doing things, but they had no issues with Soustek remaining chair.
“We just need to concentrate on moving forward in a positive direction, but need to be aggressive and get this stuff done,” said Johnson.
Monti said the committee’s recent disagreements paralleled what is going on at the city commission level, and that the key is to move forward with mutual respect.
“You can disagree, but it’s important you respect the other person’s opinion,” said Monti. “I think this group has done a great job. You’ve accomplished a lot.”