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Date of Issue: November 25, 2009

Parking again an Anna Maria problem

Old-timers in Anna Maria will say that the city has had a parking problem ever since the bridge to Anna Maria opened in 1924 and motorists who drove to the city couldn’t find a parking space.

Not much has changed in the past 85 years, despite numerous ordinances, regulations and committees that have attempted to solve the problem.

Anna Maria city commissioners at their Nov. 19 meeting asked newly elected Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus to organize a “safety committee” to study driveways and off-street parking, particularly along Pine Avenue in the city’s retail-office-residential district.

On Nov. 12, moments after he was sworn into office, Stoltzfus sent a memo to other commissioners, city attorney Jim Dye, Mayor Fran Barford and others saying he could not reconcile the parking arrangements at 315 and 317 Pine Ave. with the city’s comprehensive plan and parking ordinance.

 The properties were developed and completed this year by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC.

Stoltzfus asked for an opinion from Dye on the parking arrangements at the development and requested that the commission study the issue at a future work session.

But Commission Chairman John Quam said he placed the item on the Nov. 19 regular meeting agenda because he “wanted to get it out in the open.”

Stoltzfus said his intention was not to “single out” the PAR project, but he had a “conflict with the general design standards” at that location. He also claimed the city’s parking regulations were not followed there.

Dye responded that PAR’s site plan “went through the process” of review by city staff, planning and zoning and the city commission “and was found to comply with the standard.”

“This could be a difference of opinion, but from the site plan, [PAR] complies,” Dye said.

Dye said it sounded like Stoltzfus wanted single access to an ROR property, rather than having vehicles cross a sidewalk to enter Pine Avenue. If the commission wants to change its policy on ROR parking, it can review the regulations and make changes.

Stoltzfus agreed. The PAR project should have been required to have two driveways at the time the site plan was submitted, he said.

“It makes no sense. In my opinion, Pine Avenue is extremely unsafe, all up and down. Developers are making the situation worse and that’s unacceptable,” he said.

But Dye cautioned against the commission taking any action that might affect an already-approved project.

“Any time you have site-plan approval, you can’t un-ring that bell. If you have an approved permit from the city, that’s it. The only way is to pay that person for what they lost,” he said.

 But Quam agreed with Stoltzfus that parking and safety is of major concern on Pine Avenue and suggested Stoltzfus form a committee to study safety in the ROR district and come back to the commission with options and suggestions.

“We are talking about the future. We don’t want to create more unsafe parking,” he said.

Quam also suggested a moratorium on new site-plan approvals until new regulations are in place. Except for Stoltzfus, other commissioners were not in favor of such an action.

Commissioner Chuck Webb, an attorney with experience in land use and development, said many of the land-development regulations in the city, including the parking regulations, are ambiguous.

Stoltzfus, however, said he didn’t see any ambiguity.

PAR got its site plan approved, but there is a conflict, he indicated.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick interjected that the only conflict is that PAR has been “singled out.” She suggested that the commission not make any “arbitrary decision based on personal bias,” and not over-react.

Not so, indicated Quam. “Safety is more important. We have to do something. I still favor a moratorium.”

But Dye opined that the city has to show that there is a “public crisis” to establish a moratorium. Otherwise, a moratorium could prevent due process and open the city to litigation.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said the commission should get the ball rolling now.

“A moratorium is not a good idea. The ROR is small lots and big lots and there is a safety issue.”

Commissioners eventually agreed to have Stoltzfus head a safety committee and provide the commission with recommendations. Quam scheduled a work session at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 with parking as the agenda item.

PAR principal and Anna Maria resident Mike Coleman said he had his attorney send the city a letter about the Stoltzfus memo. He said PAR also is looking for a solution, not a fight.

However, said Coleman, the company’s name was brought to the public with an indication it had done something wrong.

“Stoltzfus has raised this issue. He told me before the election he is opposed to everything we are doing and he asked the city attorney for an opinion” about the PAR project, Coleman said.

“We did what was required, based upon the comp plan and what the planning and zoning board and city commission wanted.”

Coleman said he wants to work with the city and Stoltzfus, but hopes there isn’t a hidden agenda.

“We welcome a committee about safety, but I’m concerned that safety has suddenly become a major issue, when it hasn’t been for decades.”

The parking problem on Pine Avenue has “been going on for years,” he said, and no serious question about the safety of motorists, cyclists or pedestrians has been raised until now.

Woodland has noted previously that the Anna Maria parking issue has been ongoing since a 1977 parking committee attempted to find a solution. Subsequent parking committees have had similar results.

During Mayor SueLynn’s administration, however, the commission passed a parking ordinance that allows public parking on alternate beach-access streets and shifts parking to the alternate streets every year in January.