Seniors riled up after being pushed out of parking area at Desoto Towers in Bradenton

myoung@bradenton.comJune 11, 2014 

BRADENTON -- An extra 40 or so yards isn't a long way to walk -- unless you are elderly, disabled, it's in the summer heat and the walk winds through an area often inhabited by the homeless.

That's the situation for an estimated 40 senior residents at the Desoto Towers, 1523 Sixth Ave. W., after county workers blocked off a small stretch of county-owned green space in front of the high-rise senior living facility.

The building was built in the early 1970s, a time before parking ordinances required a more prudent review to ensure adequate parking. Now 229 seniors vie for 72 parking spaces and for many years, the remaining residents used a portion of the surplus property for overflow parking.

That changed last month when workers installed dozens of bollards around the space, forcing the seniors to park in the old City Hall parking lot on the other side of the green space.

According to resident Linda Robey, those residents forced into the city lot must now negotiate rough terrain. Nighttime is even more difficult because there is no lighting.

County officials say they under

stand the situation, but the goal is to protect public property, not private property.

Manatee County Property Management Director Charlie Bishop said the county blocked off vehicle access to protect the oak trees that residents were parking under and on top of root systems.

"Prior to the county owning it, people may have parked there, but it is a public green space," said county government spokesman Nick Azzara.

Residents are upset with what they say is a lack of communication. Robey said the county fell short in communicating its intention.

Bishop said communication with Desoto Towers had taken place, but acknowledged he could not remember if the bollards used to block vehicle access were mentioned.

Towers resident manager Nancy Steele said staff couldn't tell residents what they didn't know, either.

"We were under the impression the county was doing something different," said Steele. "The president of Desoto Towers and myself are trying to negotiate with the county to continue to let our residents park there. They have been parking there for a lot longer than the seven years I have been here, and it has never hurt the trees."

Another concern for residents now that many are using the old City Hall lot is the "No parking from sunset to sunrise" signs. Robey is concerned residents' vehicles could be towed or ticketed at any time and residents simply have nowhere else to park their vehicles.

Azzara said it's a business decision by Desoto Towers to allow that many residents with vehicles. The original business plan for the facility in the 1970s presumed older drivers would give up their vehicles. Azzara said that's not the case anymore, but remedying it is the responsibility of the towers.

In the meantime, the county has no plans to allow permanent parking at the old City Hall parking lot. Bishop said it's a liability issue, but while the county won't give permission, it will add signage that reads, "Park at your own risk."

Robey, who has advanced Crohn's disease among other health issues, said, "It's a difficult walk for me and a lot of these elderly people with health issues. It just seems to me that we could have been told and allowed to have our input."

Steele said she hopes they can reach a solution, but the county said the decision is already made. Azzara said the county wants to be a good neighbor, but the health of the "surplus property" will override parking issues.

"It's a detriment to the landscaping and the trees, and that's why it's cordoned off," he said.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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