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Date of Issue: December 09, 2009

Anna Maria parking woes draw ire, then compromise

The Anna Maria City Commission special meeting Dec. 3 on parking safety in the retail-office-residential district must have brought back memories to old-time city commission meeting attendees, at least at the start.

Tempers flared at the beginning, but cooler heads eventually prevailed.

Commission Chairman John Quam opened the meeting by expressing his concern that the ROR cannot be over-developed. The city would end up with “hundreds of cars butting-out across sidewalks,” intensifying the safety problem.

Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus then presented six recommended changes to the land-development regulations on parking. The major change would require all future ROR site plans to have driveways, eliminating back-out parking on a city street or sidewalk.

Stoltzfus chaired a parking safety committee meeting Dec. 1 that was asked by the commission to present recommendations and options on ROR parking at the Dec. 3 meeting.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, who attended the Dec. 1 meeting, opened her comments by claiming that Stoltzfus was disrespectful to city resident Mark Alonso at that meeting. In particular, Mattick said Stoltzfus called Alonso a “jackass.”

That prompted Quam to gavel her out of order, but Mattick was persistent.

 Mattick said further that Stoltzfus had “denigrated the mayor and city staff” in a letter he sent to the city Nov. 30 that indicated the administration had not done its duty in approving a Pine Avenue Restoration LLC site plan on Pine Avenue.

Quam again gaveled Mattick out of order, and Stoltzfus attempted to respond, but Mattick retained the floor. She then asked city attorney Jim Dye if Stoltzfus should be allowed to vote on any future PAR site plans because of his stated position on the company.

In his Nov. 30 letter, Stoltzfus said the city should say no to three PAR recently submitted site plans. He claimed back-out parking is not allowed and the plans each create a hazard.

 Dye responded that commissioners are entitled to an opinion, but are supposed to judge any case presented to them solely on the law.

The PAR site plans will be reviewed by city staff and the planning and zoning board for approval, although the P&Z board could send them to the commission for a vote.

That brought some calm to the proceedings and allowed Commissioner Dale Woodland to say the city should first define the problem.

“I’m looking to find the problem for all of us to address,” Woodland said. “I’m not here to blame anyone or point fingers.”

Woodland suggested that, in addition to a parking safety problem in the ROR, there might be a site-plan review procedure problem, and a problem with the city’s LDRs.

“We need to make the LDRs compatible with the comprehensive plan,” he said.

Dye opined that the LDR language approving parking pre-dates 1996, before he became associated with the city. Every project approved has allowed back-out parking. If the city wants to change the policy, it needs to “explicitly” describe what type of parking is allowed and what isn’t.

Quam said he didn’t have a problem with back-out parking, but is concerned about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists when a car backs out of a parking location.

“How can we minimize the safety hazard? Cars are backing out over the sidewalk,” he said.

The parking beast

Dye said that there could be a design problem with parking and he was unable to give an opinion on design.

Then, there is a problem, Woodland indicated, and everyone needs to understand what it is and the ramifications if it’s allowed to continue.

Dye suggested the city might have to look at regulations, analyze safety issues and remember that property owners have to put parking on a site.

“It’s a multi-headed beast,” he said.

Dye recalled the furor over creating a beach-street parking ordinance, a process that took nearly four years to complete.

“So identify the problem,” he said.

Commissioner Chuck Webb, reminded commissioners that property owners have a right to use their property as they see fit, as long as no harm is done to others and it conforms to “health, safety and welfare” regulations of the city.

He noted that the current parking code does not distinguish between residential and commercial parking.

 That’s the first problem, he said, and to separate the two will likely require a comprehensive plan amendment.

Another issue is that the city, including the ROR, has numerous small-size lots.

He cautioned the city to be “very careful” what it’s trying to regulate. “Backing out on Pine Avenue has been going on for years. I’m willing to listen, but tread carefully.” The city needs to be careful it does not take too much from property owners, he said.

Stoltzfus rejected the argument that there’s never been an accident on Pine Avenue involving a backing-out vehicle as “irrelevant.”

As more ROR projects are approved with back-out parking, Pine Avenue will eventually have hundreds of such parking spaces, he said.

Mattick said she was concerned that if the city requires driveway entry on all future projects, it might limit the ability of the developer to provide sufficient parking as required by the code. She suggested a lower speed limit on Pine Avenue and stop signs at several intersections.

Building official Bob Welch said he believed the commission was “doing a great job” in dealing with the issue. He suggested the ideas and suggestions presented should be given to the P&Z board to “hash out” and then bring its recommendations to the city commission.

Former planning and zoning board chairman Tom Turner said the city should adopt the site-plan procedures it had years ago, when the commission approved all plans.

“You can’t do much with what’s been done,” he said, but an ad-hoc committee conducting an in-depth investigation might be the answer, Turner said.

Other members of the public supported the suggestion to form an ad-hoc committee.

Larry Albert, former chairman of the city’s capital improvements advisory committee, volunteered to serve on such a committee, as did former City Commissioner Tom Aposporos and architect Gene Aubry.

Webb said the first issue for a committee is to define and quantify the existence of the problem. He also volunteered to serve on such a committee.

Stoltzfus eyes PAR

But before a committee could be named, Stoltzfus admitted that his comments were directed at PAR and principal Mike Coleman.

“We have one developer in town, so most of my comments are directed at him,” Stoltzfus said.

PAR recently submitted site plans for several ROR projects and, in Stoltzfus’ opinion, they should be rejected.

Moratorium rejected

As commissioners moved toward forming an ad-hoc committee, Stoltzfus said that it “appears to me” that PAR is trying to “beat the system” by getting site plans submitted to the city before development changes or ordinances are made.

He called upon Quam to immediately open a meeting to call for a vote on a moratorium.

“It is within your powers” for an emergency meeting and moratorium, Stolztfus suggested.

Quam, however, said he would not “go that way,” and Dye interjected that the commission “can’t do that tonight.”

Ad-hoc committee

Commissioners agreed to each submit one name to Barford to be on the ad-hoc parking safety committee and the commission will vote on the committee makeup at its Dec. 17 meeting.

Dye said all approved applications would have to abide by the current site-plan and parking regulations. Any project that is submitted, but not approved by the time the commission adopts new ordinances, will have to follow the new regulations.

“Treat all applicants normally,” he advised the commission.

Barford suggested that the commission and P&Z board have a work shop on the issue. Past combined meetings have proved successful at solving issues, she said.

“We know what’s wrong. You have to fix it,” she advised the commission.