Parking fees on Anna Maria Island questionable

March 30, 2014 

Anna Maria commissioners plan on moving forward with paid parking plans on streets and right-of-ways on certain streets. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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The city of Anna Maria has torched off another firestorm after the city commission once again brought up the issue of charging visitors for the privilege of parking vehicles in this island paradise.

For Manatee County mainlanders, this is an affront to residents who contribute mightily to Anna Maria Island's economy. Especially considering the commission discussed the idea of exempting city residents.

Why not Manatee County residents, too?

The island's singular charm -- one rare in the Sunshine State -- is an Old Florida vibe in a world with towering condos and resorts crowding beaches. Free parking is one of the joyous attributes of Anna Maria Island's throwback appeal.

Yes, all three island municipalities -- Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach being the other two -- share overcrowding and parking problems.

This is indeed a challenge that defies an easy answer. Is there one solution satisfactory to the competing island interests?

First and foremost, what's the intent?

Commerce will surely suffer as customers shy away from an unaccustomed cost.

Mainlanders have repeatedly stated that the reason for parking fees is to drive away visitors and vehicles because all those people and cars are irksome to residents. Do islanders believe they hold some sort of exclusivity because of home ownership there?

Let's be honest about this. That attitude -- which exploded the last time this issue surfaced -- cannot be ignored.

Yes, people love Anna Maria Island. And why not? They want to enjoy a paradise like no place else.

Our recommendation: Invite mainlanders to the debate. Not to hear opposition to parking fees, but to debate all sides of the issue.

Frankly, at this point we agree that a nominal charge in city lots is warranted, but elsewhere is another matter.

The best governance is to convince your foes of the need for the policy you want to adopt.

Exactly why is paid parking the solution? Parking's a problem during season and special events, for sure, but every week of the year?

Manatee County taxpayers contribute to AMI's classic appeal by paying for a free trolley up and down the island, public transportation that island city officials rave about.

Would islanders pay a fee on that, and would resort owners, too, for their guests? We've heard otherwise.

The free trolley, like free parking, is a tremendous thing in a world that overcharges for a cup of coffee.

Anna Maria Island holds a rare distinction among Florida's key destinations. Keep it that way.

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