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Date of Issue: December 02, 2009

Safety committee off to rough start

The first meeting of Anna Maria’s parking safety committee got off to a poor start Nov. 24.

Anna Maria City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus was selected by commissioners at their Nov. 19 meeting to chair the committee to study parking safety in the city, particularly in the retail-office-residential district. Stoltzfus’s committee was to present its recommendations at a Dec. 3 commission work session.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, who attended the meeting to nominate someone to be on the committee, said she was under the impression the meeting was to be organizational in nature.

But tempers immediately flared as members of the public claimed Stoltzfus had hand-picked and pre-selected committee members.

Mike Coleman of Pine Avenue Restoration LLC challenged the membership of the committee.

“You have obviously stacked the deck with like-minded people,” Coleman said, noting that committee members included Stoltzfus supporters Charlie Daniel, Larry Albert and Carl Pearman.

 Other committee members present, recommended by Mayor Fran Barford at the Nov. 19 commission meeting, were Sgt. Dave Turner, head of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office substation in Anna Maria, and Anna Maria building official Bob Welch.

After a verbal sparring match at the start of the meeting with Coleman, Daniel said he had heard enough and walked out. Midway through the meeting, Pearman announced he did not wish to serve on the committee.

Mattick complained to Stoltzfus that she was never asked to submit a name to be a committee member. She said the usual method is to have commissioners each submit one name to be on the committee, and she was present to provide her recommendation.

But Stoltzfus rebutted that he had not received a name from Mattick.

Tempers cooled after city attorney Jim Dye intervened to note there is no formal process in the city charter to form a committee. The traditional method is that the mayor appoints a committee subject to commission approval, he said.

 Dye also said that he believed the meeting was “bona fide” and met the requirements of Florida’s Sunshine Law.

 Additionally, Dye said, while Anna Maria has a tradition of a lot of public comment at committee meetings, Stoltzfus did not have to take any comments at the meeting.

“There will be no public comment at this meeting,” Stoltzfus said on hearing Dye’s opinion.

That silenced Coleman and Mattick and discussion then turned to the safety issue, particularly parking at the PAR project at 315 and 317 Pine Ave.

Stoltzfus asked Welch if he considered parking at that complex safe or not safe.

“Yes and no,” replied Welch.

“It’s not the best,” he said, but under the circumstances of Pine Avenue, there is “virtually no better way.”

Some measures could be taken, Welch said, but it is impossible to make parking there, or anywhere on Pine Avenue, completely safe.

Stoltzfus said it was an interpretation of the parking regulations by city planner Alan Garrett that allowed PAR to proceed with its site plan in the city’s residential-office-retail zone. Any regulation that can be interpreted two ways is a “bad law,” he said.

“My question is ‘Are you satisfied with that?’” he asked Welch.

Stoltzfus said he was not asking that the city change the parking plan at the PAR project, but questioned whether the city wanted to continue issuing site-plan approvals for what he considers are unsafe parking plans.

He claimed city staff should have denied PAR’s parking plan so that it would have ended up becoming a commission decision. PAR’s project at 315 and 317 Pine Ave. — called Cozy Corner by PAR — was approved by the planning and zoning board with some stipulations that were met by PAR before proceeding with construction.

Larry Albert noted that the city has three other PAR projects with similar parking plans, and there’s another ROR project being developed by Robert and Nicki Hunt at 303 Pine Ave.

In addition, there is another project on Pine Avenue that involves motorists backing onto Pine Avenue from a parking location, he said.

Welch agreed there are problems with the city’s land-development regulations, particularly parking. And, he said, he and the P&Z board have already held one meeting to discuss changes to the parking regulations.

Dye said the city has “done everything right” in approving the PAR project, but indicated that many city projects do “not comply with parking regulations as well as they could.”

It’s common for the city to have interpretations of regulations, particularly concerning parking, because of the composition of the lots, especially in the ROR, he indicated.

Stoltzfus said he is “very safety conscious” and contended that the land-development regulations have not been applied properly in the planning process.

The PAR project on Pine “should have been rejected on that basis,” he claimed.

In fact, Stoltzfus said all approved ROR projects should have been denied by staff and sent to the city commission for review.

Dye said the city can encourage good parking design in the parking ordinance with a checklist of “thou shall and thou shall not,” but, in his opinion, the city commission has in the past always allowed leeway in parking designs.

Welch said that there are a lot of issues to look at in the city’s parking regulations.

Turner added another one, pointing out that under the city parking regulations, he and his deputies have no authority in a private parking lot.

Property owners cannot have illegally parked cars towed, and deputies cannot intervene in such cases.

As an example, he said someone who works on Pine Avenue could park at the Anna Maria Island Community Center all day without fear of being towed.

Turner also observed that most private parking lots in the city make no accommodation for a handicap parking space.

He also said he is unaware of any accident report on Pine Avenue involving a vehicle backing out of a parking space.

In response to a suggestion that the speed limit on Pine Avenue be lowered to 15 mph, Turner said it could be whatever the commission wants.

Pearman apologized for resigning from the committee at its first meeting and suggested that there should be compromises on many parking issues.

Agreed, said Albert. “We have to live with what we got, but maybe we can improve” the regulations.

Stoltzfus said he planned to have another meeting this week, but set no time or date. He later scheduled the committee meeting for Dec. 1, although it was canceled Monday, Nov. 30.

The committee’s report is due at the commission work session at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3.

Following the safety committee meeting, Coleman said he was pleased at the final direction of the committee.

“There was good dialogue. I believe there is a broad cross-section of citizens on the committee and I’m encouraged.”

Mattick, however, said Stoltzfus appears more concerned about politics than solving a problem.

“It’s clear that that thing is politically motivated. It’s all directed against PAR,” she said.

City resident Mark Alonso, commented after the meeting that the parking situation on Pine Avenue has been around for decades.

“Everyone on Pine Avenue has to back out into the street. Why is PAR being singled out?”