Before they see the beach, many Manatee Public Beach visitors see brake lights and turn signals as they circle the parking lot seeking a parking space.
Might they also someday see parking meters at Manatee County beaches, as well as at boat ramps?
The concept of paid-beach parking resurfaced in late February during a preliminary budget discussion among county commissioners.
At the meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Stephen Jonsson, whose district includes west Manatee, Anna Maria Island and north Longboat Key, observed Pinellas County beaches have paid-parking and that user fees can help pay for amenities.
“I am just supporting research to determine what the feasibility may be and what consequences might also develop,” Jonsson said in a statement March 14 to The Islander.
Island mayors, assembled March 11 at Anna Maria City Hall for an Island Transportation Planning Organization meeting, said they have an idea the consequences would be negative.
The ITPO consists of the island mayors and generally assembles before a meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes an island mayor. The next MPO meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, March 25, at the Holiday Inn Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota.
At the ITPO meeting, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth expressed concern that the county commission may consider instituting paid parking at its beaches.
“I think that’s going to impact everybody,” said Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.
In Anna Maria, the county maintains Bayfront Park on the bayside, but the city owns the property.
In Holmes Beach, the county owns and maintains the Manatee Public Beach on the Gulf of Mexico and also operates the city-owned Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue.
In Bradenton Beach, the county owns and maintains the Cortez and Coquina beaches, as well as the Leffis Key preserve and boat ramps on the bayside of the park.
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie observed, “One-third of our city is county property.”
“It would have a traumatic effect on our neighborhoods,” Chappie said of paid parking at the beaches. “I was surprised when they came up with it all of a sudden.”
Titsworth replied, “And they’re talking about the boat ramps, too.”
At the Kingfish ramp March 14, Johan Rodriguez of Palmetto was putting his boat into the water.
Asked whether he’d pay to park at the ramp, Rodriguez said, “Don’t we already pay for this with our taxes?”
At the Manatee Public Beach, Martha Wilcox, a seasonal resident from Vermont, said she wouldn’t balk at paying for parking, provided parking was made more abundant.
“I don’t want to be asked to pay $10 an hour after driving around 30 minutes looking for a parking space,” she said. “If you are going to sell parking, you better have it to sell.”
Eight out of 10 beachgoers polled by The Islander said they wouldn’t mind paying to park at the public beach if the fee were modest and space abundant.
And yet, said Donna Snyder, who was visiting the island from Kansas City, Missouri, “If we knew of free parking, we’d probably use it.”
Titsworth, at the ITPO meeting, surmised that charging for parking at Manatee Public Beach would push people to search for free parking in residential neighborhoods or encourage them to poach spaces at nearby businesses, specifically the Public Super Market on East Bay Drive.
Murphy said Anna Maria officials studied paid parking for the city and found “it doesn’t have any payback.”
Chappie said he would invite a county commissioner to attend the next Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting — possibly in April — to discuss the matter.
Jonsson, to The Islander, said the next step might be a work session.
“I have absolutely no idea what revenues could be generated,” he stated, but revenue generated could be used to maintain the beaches and also encourage other modes of transportation to and on the island.
Near the meeting’s conclusion, Murphy observed it was the last session of the ITPO in Anna Maria for four years. The chair will shift to Chappie, and the meetings will take place at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive, beginning at 2 p.m. Monday, May 6.
Parking consultant study suggests paid parking
For the ongoing Barrier Islands Traffic Study, a Tampa consulting firm evaluated parking on the islands in Manatee and Sarasota counties and offered a series of recommendations, including paid parking in key public areas.
The study by Walker Consultants, presented last April, listed eight general recommendations for the study area, including charging “a fee to park in the most convenient public parking locations” because “implementing a fee-to-park strategy will support a best-practice policy for managing demand by price. The goal would be to make at least 15 percent of the localized parking inventory available for use at all times by creating parking turnover and encouraging alternative transit and commuter options.”
Another recommendation was to use parking revenues to lease park-and-ride locations.
A third recommendation was to use parking revenues to support bonds to build structured public parking “convenient to public-use areas and commercial corridors.”
Specific to Anna Maria Island, the report recommended working with local churches to use parking lots, developing an electronic wayfinding system so motorists can find parking spaces, establishing park-and-ride locations on the mainland, and, in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, charging “a fee to park at designated public beach parking spaces.”