Posters on trees at Coquina Beach on Memorial Day promoted a previously unannounced concert, Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale told members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
“Oh where, oh where has my parking space gone?” might be the tune some visitors sing July 4 as they arrive on Anna Maria Island.
Parking issues are nothing new for Anna Maria Island, Carol Soustek, chair of the Holmes Beach parking committee, told members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials at their June 18 meeting.
“It’s probably been around since 1920, when somebody said, ‘You’re parking in my space,’” she said.
But today, all three island cities are facing parking problems on holidays and weekends, she said.
“We have a limited number of parking spaces, but the volume of cars coming to the island on a holiday has tripled the past 10 years,” she said. “That’s what’s escalated the whole problem.”
She said once public parking spaces are full, visitors park anywhere they can, sometimes blocking residential driveways.
“And people abuse where they park,” she added.
Her committee found one instance of a vehicle parked in front of a condominium and an emergency vehicle dispatched to a call at that address found the entry blocked.
“Now we’re getting into a safety issue, and these are strangers parking in front of houses. The residents don’t know these people and are afraid to come out of their homes. We’re in a crisis.”
Soustek said the committee has heard complaints from residents of trash, baby diapers, beer bottles and other garbage dumped in front of homes.
“We owe the residents the respect of their safety and peace of mind in their own homes,” she told the BIEO.
Soustek said she “knows the city is going to get flak, but we’re not saying ‘don’t come.’ We want to help visitors enjoy their stay. It’s just that we now don’t have enough parking for everybody who wants to come to the beach on a holiday or nice weekend. It’s a few people who don’t care who ruin the day for others.”
Her committee is drafting a plan to restrict parking in all residential districts except Key Royale. Residents would get a permit to park on their street, she said.
It’s a plan similar to that being discussed in Anna Maria, Mayor SueLynn said.
Soustek noted Bradenton Beach has nearly 2,000 spaces at Coquina Beach for beachgoers to use.
True, said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, but those spaces filled up fast on Memorial Day. By 10 a.m., all spaces were taken, and people began parking anywhere they could find, he said.
Speciale showed a video of illegally parked vehicles that day. At one location on an access road, parked cars prevented the police vehicle from proceeding.
“I just want people to be aware of what we face every holiday,” he said.
Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department director, was asked by Speciale to keep the lifeguards on duty at Coquina Park past 4:30 p.m. on the holiday.
What’s happening, Speciale said, is that people who know the lifeguards and police leave at 4:30 p.m. are taking advantage. On Memorial Day, several trucks with musical equipment appeared after 4:30 p.m. and set up. They held a free concert that attracted several hundred people.
Additionally, people were drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages, and they told others that they weren’t worried about being caught because law enforcement had left for the day.
“This is what happens on weekends. We no longer have a slow season. Every holiday weekend, Coquina Beach is full and the overflow goes across street. Eventually, motorists go to Bayfront Park or Manatee Public Beach, then to residential streets,” he said.
Until a few years ago, law enforcement was able to deal with large crowds at Coquina Beach. Now, Speciale is uncertain of what future holiday weekends will bring to the area.
“We had a handle on controlling the crowds, stopping the cruising and the free parties, but the danger spots are returning,” he said.
Speciale said he and other island law enforcement agencies need to work on parking issues at Coquina Beach, and have lifeguards and police officers remain on duty past 4:30 p.m. on holidays and busy weekends.
Careful with those parking spaces
Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker, who attended the June 18 meeting of the Barrier Island Elected Officials, cautioned island cities to check with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the number of public parking spaces required to receive state funding for beach renourishment before adopting new ordinances that limit parking.
Hunsicker said the cities need to make sure they don’t eliminate parking spaces needed to qualify for beach renourishment funding. The DEP has a formula it uses to determine if the minimum number of public parking spaces exist for future funding.
In other BIEO matters, mayors of each island city agreed to discuss with their respective commissions an inter-local agreement to participate in an Urban Land Institute study of Anna Maria Island.
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said Manatee County has agreed in principle to fund the $125,000 study if all three cities agree to participate, although no vote has yet been taken by the county commission. She said each of the city commissions should pass a resolution agreeing to take part. Once she has the resolutions, she’ll make the presentation for the study to the board of county commissioners.