Anna Maria commissioners are seated around several tables, conducting informal work sessions and suspending the rules or order to promote dialogue. Taking part are, from left, Commissioners Doug Copeland, left, Dale Woodland, Chuck Webb, Mayor SueLynn, Commissioners Nancy Yetter and Carol Carter, city attorney Jim Dye and city planner Alan Garrett. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
After nearly three decades of discussing paid parking in Anna Maria’s rights of way, the idea may at last be moving toward a conclusion.
At their March 13 work session, commissioners informally agreed 4-1 to proceed with the idea of placing payment kiosks for some parking spaces in the rights of way. The paid parking would not affect private spaces and parking lots, just right-of-way parking, including public spaces along Pine Avenue, Gulf Drive, North Shore Drive and some parking spaces at the city pier.
Mayor SueLynn said it’s been a long time coming.
“It’s been discussed for years and years. Many residents have simply given up trying to get paid parking because no commission would proceed with a plan,” she said.
Commission Chair Chuck Webb said the proliferation of visitors to the city the past five years or so has fueled the push for paid parking.
City residents would not have to pay to park at kiosk-regulated parking locations.
“Residents pay taxes, property owners pay taxes and business owners pay taxes to support parking. We only have so many spaces, so it’s time for paid parking. It’s not going to be a popular issue among some people, but it has to be done,” Webb said.
The details of fee collection at the kiosks in various areas needs work, he added.
SueLynn, who previously presented options for paid-parking, said she and staff would have a draft plan ready for discussion at the March 27 commission meeting.
Commissioner Dale Woodland suggested drivers could buy a parking pass for a day, week, month or year, but SueLynn said those details will be studied by staff and presented in the draft.
Commissioner Doug Copeland, who was the lone commissioner against paid parking, suggested the city might have to hire a part-time parking enforcement officer on weekends to tickets violators.
“That’s a long way off,” said SueLynn. “We’ll come back with a draft and I hope the public will show up to provide input.”
The mayor also asked for a social media expert to volunteer to help the city get the word out about agenda items, such as parking.
“I want the public really involved in this and other decisions,” she said. “We need to be able to inform them of important meetings almost immediately.”
Commissioners also discussed the new sign ordinance.
Although the ordinance was directed at real estate signs, free-standing business signs in the right of way got caught in the middle, said Commissioner Dale Woodland.
“Some of the businesses can’t be seen from the road without an A-frame sign,” he said.
Woodland said he met with a number of business owners who asked why A-frame signs were restricted.
“It’s a good marketing and business tool,” Woodland said he was told by the business owners.
But Commissioner Carol Carter said too many businesses were taking advantage of the previous ordinance, which allowed one A-frame sign and a window sign at a business.
“I walked Pine Avenue on Sunday and found one business with three A-frame signs, window signs and a vehicle with signage advertising the business. It seems if we give an inch, some people take a mile,” she said.
Commissioner Nancy Yetter agreed. “Pine Avenue is starting to look like Panama City.”
Commissioners, however, wanted to ensure businesses have the tools to draw customers.
“We’re all pro-business,” Webb said.
City planner Alan Garrett said the new sign ordinance is ambiguous about signs for multi-tenant business properties and the section on business signs may have been poorly written.
“If you are in a multi-tenant location, you can have one wall sign and one directory sign of no more than 4 square feet in size and you can only use one side of the sign,” he said.
“So the problem is how can I let customers know where my business is?” he said.
“And there are a lot more businesses now than when I was mayor 10 years ago,” SueLynn said.
Ten years ago, discussion of a new sign ordinance centered around restaurants, Garrett observed. “Now, it’s about restaurants having a menu board, but other businesses can’t.”
Copeland said he liked the signs at the Anna Maria Historic Green Village. They are uniform, attractive, brief and meet the size limitations.
Webb, however, noted the commission has extended the moratorium on A-frame signs until April 3.
“We can always extend it again. We have bigger fish to fry than A-frame signs,” he said.
City attorney Jim Dye advised commissioners to use caution on the sign ordinance.
“You can regulate size, but be careful about trying to regulate content. That’s a free-speech issue,” he said.
Dye also noted that some municipalities allow 5-15 years for a business to come into compliance with a new sign ordinance.
“If you have someone who just spent $10,000 on a sign that was legal, and now you say it’s not legal, you’re going to have pushback from the owner,” he cautioned commissioners.
“We have our homework. Look at areas that are acceptable to have an outside sign,” Webb said. Commissioners agreed to study sign ordinance exceptions and bring their ideas to the March 27 regular meeting.
Dye also told commissioners that under the current charter, the mayor has the choice to be pro-active or reactive regarding code enforcement. The commission agreed to support the mayor, however she proceeds.
SueLynn said code enforcement officers would be pro-active on vehicles and signs in the rights of way, and they would use discretion to solve code violations without going through the violation process.
Code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon said in the nearly two years since the city adopted the special magistrate system to solve code citations, the city has yet to employ the magistrate.
SueLynn said the object of code enforcement is to solve the issue amicably, not bring the offender to the magistrate.
“These are our residents, our citizens. We want to work with them to bring problems into compliance,” she said.
The mayor also said she would allow anonymous code violation complaints. For several years, the policy has been that a complaint had to be signed by the person making the objection.
Garrett observed Rathvon and code enforcement officer Diane Sacca have resolved nearly all code complaints the past two years.
Special work session March 18
Anna Maria commissioners were to hold a special work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, to discuss agenda items that were continued from the March 13 work session.
Included on the agends is discussion on the size of bedrooms in a new single-family residence.