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Date of Issue: March 08, 2007

Beachfront parking lot presented prematurely

A solution to the parking dilemma facing "downtown" Bradenton Beach was offered last week, but officials were pretty much mum on the proffer.

Restaurateur Ed Chiles, owner of the BeachHouse Restaurant, presented plans that would add about 40 parking spaces on the beach just south of his establishment at 200 Gulf Drive N.

"We've got a major parking crisis in the city," Chiles said. He said that the area has been utilized by the restaurant in the past, although he admitted that there have been "problems with ingress and egress on the site and legitimate concerns with safety," which he said are now being addressed by having either a parking attendant or valet to handle vehicles on the restaurant-owned lot.

"We've had a problem with people coming down, taking down ropes and parking everywhere," Chiles said. "That will change."

He said the lot plans include adding parking spaces, landscaping, benches and other amenities. "We would like to go forward as a cooperative effort," Chiles said.

The matter, although not addressed by city commissioners after the presentation, did draw some comments from commissioners and residents before the issue was broached.

City Commissioner Bill Shearon said he wondered if there is a conflict of interest by Ricinda Perry, who represents the city on a number of matters in her capacity as an attorney and also represents Chiles on his lot proposal.

"I'm concerned that there might be a conflict of interest here," he said.

His comments were also reflected by former City Commissioner Anna O'Brien, who admonished the commission that "you should not hear this now because you will have to hear it later. It hasn't gone through the drill [of planning and zoning board and perhaps board of adjustment]. It's a dangerous road you're going down."

Planning and zoning board member Jo Ann Meilner also had concerns about the matter. "I believe it should be presented to us," she said. She cited several issues she believed crucial to the beachfront parking lot: its placement on renourished sand, placement in regard to the erosion control line, and the question of whether or not a parking lot is to be considered a "development" by state environmental regulators.

"I see this as a Pandora's box," Meilner said.

Mayor John Chappie said that he had invited Chiles to bring the matter to the meeting.

Perry did not participate in the discussion, which seemed to placate Shearon and O'Brien, and commissioners did not make comments after Chiles' presentation. If and when the matter will come forward again is unknown.

However, Chiles has marked off a parking area on the property in question with ropes and cones and has been allowing parking there in advance of any approval.