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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Parking plan going forward in Anna Maria

A divided Anna Maria City Commission grudgingly gave the go-ahead at its May 6 meeting for a draft ordinance to govern parking within the designated beach access zone. Commission Chairperson John Quam said he would have the ordinance ready for a first reading at the May 27 commission meeting.

But commissioners were split 3-2 on the status of Willow Avenue, where residents have requested that parking be allowed to remain "as is," with open parking everywhere on that street.

The commission previously had designated only five parking spaces on Willow under Quam's "Plan X" parking solution, but residents on that street presented a petition to maintain the status quo or "opt out" of the plan.

Commissioner Duke Miller proposed a compromise that Willow Avenue be allowed seven parking spaces, the number that the city engineering firm of Baskerville-Donovan had indicated could be located safely on that street and conform to the current city parking ordinance.

Commissioners Dale Woodland and Carol Ann Magill, however, said they would vote against Plan X if parking on Willow Avenue was not retained "as is."

Quam said that if open parking were allowed on Willow, residents there would be "over run" with public parking.

Miller said the city is not making an exception for Willow Avenue, just giving residents there the "maximum number of safe spaces."

Commissioner Linda Cramer carried the swing vote, saying that while she had no problem with Willow Avenue "opting out" of Plan X, the current plan is "as good as it gets" for parking in the BAZ. However, she added, she still has some "real problems" with Plan X.

As in any Anna Maria meeting on parking the past 27 years, tempers flared and accusations were hurled.

Resident Al DiCostanzo said the proposed ordinance and accompanying signage is "overkill." Anna Maria property owner John Cagnina, who resides in Holmes Beach, said the commission is preparing a plan and ordinance that is complicated and difficult, while ignoring the wishes of the taxpayers. The city should just "deal with parking problems" on an individual basis, he claimed.

"You are going to pass this, then you will have to undo the damage," Cagnina added.

Miller, however, said that after the current two-and-a-half years of commission discussion on parking, parking solution committees and proposals dating back to 1977, and inaction by previous commissions on any recommendations, the time has come to move forward with something concrete.

Cramer reminded the audience that any ordinance still required two public meetings and public input before a formal vote.

Quam said the ordinance would only be in force for one year while the city studies its effectiveness to control parking in the BAZ. After 12 months, the commission could either amend, reject or continue the ordinance.

He also had to gavel the meeting to order several times because of outbursts from the audience.

John Thomas of Coconut Avenue, however, supported the commission's direction. With the large growth of east Manatee County, the city is going to face an ever-increasing number of visitors who will be looking to park anywhere. "We are going to have a problem and you are taking a responsible direction," he told commissioners.

Commissioners also dealt with signage for parking, no parking and handicap spaces.

"There will be a lot of signs out there," under Plan X, said Quam.

By his estimation, the city will need 114 parking signs, seven handicap parking signs, and an as-yet undetermined number of no-parking signs. The city could opt to use smaller signs and, as a cost-saving measure, utilize some of the current parking and no parking signs in place.

"But we want to make it clear where you can and cannot park" in the BAZ, he emphasized.

Quam said he would have detailed costs of the signage by May 27.

Commissioners also agreed to make the Cypress Street-Tuna Avenue-Spruce Street thoroughfare one-way streets in the ordinance, because the streets are narrow and the residents seem to be in favor of such a move.

There was also commission agreement on allowing a "permanent permit" for BAZ homeowners without a driveway to be allowed to park on the right of way.

Woodland and Cramer believed there would be very few of the estimated 400 property owners within the BAZ that fall into this category.

Woodland also wanted the city to mail out letters to every property owner in the BAZ notifying them of the May 27 public hearing.

While Cramer said she was supporting Plan X for now, she reminded the public that the final ordinance language could be amended at either public hearing on the ordinance.

The draft ordinance places seven parking spaces on Willow Avenue and seven handicap parking spaces throughout the BAZ for a total of 110 parking spots in the zone.

Willow Avenue residents, including Elizabeth Moss and Dale Higinbotham, vowed to continue their fight for open parking at the May 27 commission meeting.

Nasty name-calling
During the debate, one male member of the audience was heard to say "she's an a_ _ h_ _ _" after Cramer finished speaking on one occasion.

After the meeting, Cramer said she heard what was said and knew the person who said it, but decided not to make an issue of it at that time. She said she learned later that the person was speaking about Magill, not herself.

"It's just a shame that people make these statements over this issue," Cramer said. "It just shows their ignorance of what we're trying to accomplish as a commission.

She agreed such language is indicative of the divisiveness that the parking issue has created in Anna Maria.