Anna Maria residents, businesses react to city's paid parking plans

acastillo@bradenton.comMarch 19, 2014 

ANNA MARIA -- Anna Maria commissioners have begun talking about charging for parking in their city.

The commission informally agreed 4-1 last week to entertain the idea of placing payment kiosks for some parking spaces in Anna Maria. The kiosks would be placed in the rights of way, including public spaces along Gulf Drive, North Shore Drive, Pine Avenue and some spaces at the city's historic pier. The paid parking spaces would not affect private spaces and city residents would not be expected to pay at the locations.

Reached by phone Tuesday morning, Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn told the Herald she was hesitant to speak on the parking discussion.

"I don't want to make any public comments," she said. "I haven't been able to meet with my staff."

Asked whether there was a draft in place yet with specifics for the paid parking plan, SueLynn said that there wasn't.

"It was just a work session and the commissioners met and concurred that they would like to get paid parking for the entire city," she said.

Emails to the five Anna Maria commissioners were not returned by deadline Tuesday.

Outside the Anna Maria General Store and Deli on Pine Avenue, longtime Anna Maria resident Jennifer Cascardo had some questions Tuesday about the idea of paid parking in her city.

"If you keep putting parking - whether it's free or not free -- in the right of way, since a large percentage of our streets do not have sidewalks, where are the actual pedestrians going to walk? In traffic?" the real estate broker said. "Where do they go when both lanes have a north- and a south-bound traffic vehicle in the street and they're walking with a carriage or with a child or they're on a bicycle, and now there's that courtesy moment of 'Who goes first?' Where does the pedestrian step out of the way?"

Cascardo emphasized that she isn't for or against a parking proposal, but her main concern is safety.

Paid parking spaces, she added, should be in designated city-owned properties on the weekends instead of rights of way.

"Safety should always come first," Cascardo said.

Though business owner Cheryl Grecco has private parking for her Italian eatery at 314 Pine Ave., she said she thinks parking kiosks in the area would affect business.

"I think when people hear that they have to pay for something, they have second thoughts," said the 49-year-old, who co-owns Vinny & Cheryl's Italian Kitchen with her husband. If the city were to move forward with this, Grecco thinks it would reduce the number of people who visit Anna Maria Island.

"It's already hard to make a living, so to do something like that would just make it even harder," she said. "We have our rules and regulations as far as the signs and things like that, so we're keeping it old-world Florida, but I think that the more they restrict people, the more it's going to affect our personal businesses."

Wendy Doran, who is visiting Anna Maria Island with her sister-in-law Diana for nine days, doesn't like the idea of having to pay for parking at the island's rights of way.

"I'd be very upset. We love to spend money here, but I would rather spend my money at the shops," said the 52-year-old tourist from Ontario, Canada.

"I pay a lot for parking at home," Doran added. "It's so refreshing to not have to here."

Inside Lor-Ell's Front Porch Salon on Pine Avenue, co-owner Loretta Hopps expressed her skepticism about the paid-parking plan. Many people already park their cars in her business' private parking lot to walk to the beach.

"I think people are going to park where they want anyway," the 71-year-old hair stylist said.

Hopps, who first moved to Anna Maria in the 1960s, said the island was filled with dirt roads back then. It was once "a well-kept secret," she added.

Life on the island is clearly different now.

"I don't know if parking meters are going to solve all the problems we've created in overbuilding in the area. We've overgrown our roads, our parking - our land," she said. "There's nowhere else to go."

Hopps wanted to make it clear that she appreciates the tourists who visit Anna Maria.

"They're my livelihood - but we just aren't prepared," she said. "We just aren't prepared for them. I wish there was a better set-up."

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