Memorial Day weekend on the island proved to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for tourists flocking to the beaches.
At times, traffic to the island was reported to be backed up all the way to the intersection of Manatee Avenue and 26th Street in Bradenton.
Parking on Anna Maria Island for beachgoers is always an issue, but never more challenging during certain times of the year than a holiday weekend. With limited parking opportunities, comes a mindframe for some motorists to park in any open space, even where it’s illegal.
A popular spot to do just that is along Manatee Avenue leading from the traffic light at the Manatee-East Bay Drive intersection into the public beach.
According to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, enforcing illegal parking is going to be taken seriously as a safety issue.
“This weekend was very bad,” Tokajer told commissioners at a May 28 city commission meeting. “We’ve put up ‘no parking’ signs on the north side of Manatee (Avenue), but people were not just parking on the right of way, they were parking on the sidewalks and in the bike lanes.”
Tokajer said that forces pedestrians and bicyclists into the road and that is an “unacceptable” safety issue.
“Every single person received a parking ticket,” said Tokajer. “We wanted to make it clear that there is no parking on this side of the road. People were saying they didn’t see the signs. Well sorry, they are there.”
Commissioner David Zaccagnino said part of the problem is that people coming to visit the island view it “like going to a Bucs or Rays game. They look at it like paying to park, so they don’t mind paying a $20 ticket knowing they have a parking spot for the day.”
Tokajer is recommending additional “no parking” signs, but also wants to add signage that the right of way on the north side of Manatee Avenue will be a tow-away zone.
“I think if people understand that they could return from the beach to find their car gone and have to pay a couple of hundred dollars to get it back, that would be a good deterrent,” he said.
Commissioners agreed, saying they liked the idea, and also suggested looking at a way to increase parking fines.
Tokajer suggested a step system where a second ticket would cost substantially more, but said a “tow-away zone will definitely get their attention. The bottom line is that it’s against state law to park there and the people who are ignoring that law are putting lives in jeopardy.
Tokajer said his department also will begin enforcing other state laws such as no parking within 25 feet of an intersection or crosswalk.
“There’s a visibility issue when someone parks too close to a stop sign or crosswalk and it becomes a safety concern,” he said.
HB tightening parking requirements for new restaurants
Holmes Beach resident Terry Parker called a May 14 Holmes Beach Commission move to tighten parking requirements for new restaurants “cherry picking.”
Commissioners voted 5-0 to require new restaurants and assembly halls to have one parking space per three seats, a throwback to the city’s previous parking ordinance, which was changed in 2010 to one parking space per five seats.
Retail, offices and other businesses were excluded from the motion, which targeted only restaurants and assembly-hall type structures, such as churches and conference halls.
Commissioners felt comfortable that no new churches were planned on the island, but wanted to prevent a scenario like the proposed Mainsail project that included space for conference rooms and functions.
However, the primary focal point of the May 14 lengthy discussion was restaurants.
Commissioner Judy Titsworth, at a prior work session, asked the commission to direct city planner Bill Brisson to conduct a study to assess parking in the city.
Brisson said May 14 that he could conduct such a study, but that it would be “expensive and time-consuming and would not likely solve anything.”
Titsworth asked for the study because she believes ample parking was once a symbol of pride for Holmes Beach.
“I just want to make sure this commission is OK with the changes made by the previous commission,” she said. “I understand why they were changed, but I don’t want to become a Pine Avenue in Anna Maria or Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, where people are fighting for parking.”
Brisson said a previous commission changed parking requirements because businesses were having problems operating and the city was having difficulty attracting new businesses.
Brisson said if he did do the study, “What are we going to do about it? You won’t be able to improve anything.”
Commissioner David Zaccagnino, a member of the commission for eight years, said the change was made due to the economic collapse and ensuing recession.
“We had a lot of businesses folding up and leaving the island,” he said. “We were concerned about losing businesses and wanted to do something to be more business friendly.”
Commissioner Pat Morton also served during those discussions, and said the decision “came back to bite us. We got an overabundance of restaurants that came into a small area. We used to have mom-and-pop places. Now we have mega places.”
Zaccagnino said it was a good decision.
“Back in the old days, all we had is a couple of burger joints,” he said. “Now we have some very successful restaurants and an emergence of a culinary reputation for fabulous restaurants. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.”
Titsworth questioned whether the current parking requirements are going to make matters worse.
“I’m wondering if we are dealing with parking issues because of a lack of enforcement,” she said. “It’s quite obvious there was a lack of enforcement on a number of codes. Or are we feeling these pains because we softened our requirements? Are we comfortable with what we have now?”
Commissioner Marvin Grossman said the 2012-13 tourist season was a sign of things to come.
“When we get into the peak time, we are full,” he said. “What I’m trying to say is that peak times are a sign of what is going to happen because we don’t have the lull like we used to. We need to prevent it from getting worse. This is our city. We have a lifestyle choice to make.”
Grossman said the choice came down to taking action for tourists or for residents.
“‘Business-friendly’ is a nice term, but what about ‘citizen-friendly’? I believe I was elected to be concerned about our citizens and their lifestyles,” he said.
Zaccagnino said he was not opposed to going back to a one-space-per-three-seat rule, but the “problem is that we have finite space. We are a small town and very popular. You can limit spaces, but people are still going to come. It’s still going to be full.”
Zaccagnino agreed that, sooner rather than later, there will be no differentiating tourist season from offseason.
“We used to have an offseason, where businesses would actually close from September through October,” he said. “We don’t have an offseason anymore. It doesn’t matter if you change the ordinance, it’s still going to be full. We need to find other solutions, like valet parking.”
Titsworth agreed with Grossman, citing concern for the city’s future with today’s policies. She also questioned the validity of valet parking.
Titsworth also said the city’s policy of requiring no parking spaces for outdoor seating isn’t working.
Brisson disagreed, but acknowledged some restaurants have exploited the policy.
“Real outdoor dining is on sidewalks, not half the size of this auditorium,” he said. “Those (restaurants taking advantage of the policy) should be looked at to change it in the fashion of regular dining.”
Mayor Carmel Monti asked what rights the city has in preventing more restaurants.
City attorney Patricia Petruff said that would be difficult.
“Your commercial districts say restaurants are permitted,” she said. “To deny a restaurant would be very difficult, but you can force them to get very creative in their site plan with parking restrictions.”
Zaccagnino reiterated that he didn’t have a problem voting to change the parking requirements for new restaurants, “but it won’t solve the problem. We have to rely on (Brisson) to look at more creative ways to ease traffic.”
Monti said limiting traffic was the key.
“We have to limit the number of cars coming onto the island,” he said. “We need more means to get people to the island, but not their cars.”
The Manatee County Tourist Development Council and other county agencies are looking into that solution, including ideas such as developing water taxi services from the mainland to the island, according to previous TDC discussions.
Monti and Zaccagnino recommended the city form a committee to include Police Chief Bill Tokajer to look at what the city can do to keep traffic flowing.
The motion to restrict parking requirements for new restaurants will not apply to existing restaurants, nor does it apply to new businesses other than restaurants or assembly-hall type structures.
Petruff said it would take about a month to officially adopt the ordinance change.