HOLMES BEACH -- The Holmes Beach Commission is attempting to alleviate parking woes felt by residents through a parking-by-permit program that would be concentrated on a roughly 15-block area along Manatee Public Beach.
On Tuesday, officials voted 3-2 to move forward with the draft form of Ordinance 16-01, which would establish a parking-by-permit-only zone in the rights-of-way of the blocks closest to the beach between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.: the area between Manatee Avenue and 52nd Street west of Gulf Drive; from Manatee Avenue north to 43rd Street; from 74th Street to 81st Street; and Aqua Lane. The draft ordinance will have a second reading in two weeks.
The main reason behind the proposed program is to protect the quality of life of residents, many of whom complain about people blocking their streets and sometimes entrances with their parked cars.
"We're really pleased and excited," said Holmes Beach Island Congestion Committee Chairwoman Jayne Christenson. "I think it's going to provide the relief that residents have been requesting of our commissioners."
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According to Christenson, those qualifying for a parking permit decal would include property owners, individuals who have a vehicle registered to a Holmes Beach property, and individuals with a lease longer than 30 days.
"The people who live on those blocks constantly have cars parked in front of their houses and their children cannot go out and play. There are always strangers around. It's not safe," said Holmes Beach Commission Vice Chairwoman Jean Peelen, who has long fought to preserve the quality of life for Anna Maria Island residents. "This is to relieve that situation."
The trial program brought forth by the island congestion committee has been worked on for some time. In April 2015, the committee stood before city officials about a program in certain areas that would eliminate street parking unless otherwise signaled by signs. Through time, the program has been tweaked.
Days before the vote, in a letter dated Jan. 7, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker wrote to Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson in reference to local media reports that the city is considering changes to its public parking availability within the city limits.
"While such actions are clearly authorized by your local ordinances, please be aware that any such actions which have the effect of reducing public access to Federal and State funded renourished Gulf-front beaches within the city limits may have direct and immediate consequences upon State and Federal cost shares provided to Manatee County for the 2014 renourishment project and any future renourishment activities," Hunzeker's letter read.
Hunzeker's letter touched on the concern that a new parking plan would disrupt a 10-year agreement made in 2014 between Manatee County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for beach management funding assistance for Anna Maria Island -- Manatee County Shore Protection Project.
As part of the agreement, Manatee County is required to maintain the public access to the beach, as well as public parking spaces. Should Holmes Beach officials take action to amend its parking and/or public access provisions during the period of the agreement, Hunzeker said the county strongly suggests the city seek the "written confirmation" from DEP that the adopted changes won't create an adverse effect on maintenance of the grant given. If the plan results in a reduction of state and federal grant eligibility, Hunzeker wrote that the city of Holmes Beach must repay grant funds and all future renourishment costs deemed ineligible.
Hunzeker and Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Jean Peelen said the trial program would not interfere with the parking spaces mentioned in Hunzeker's letter.
"They sent that letter without ever speaking to anyone on the commission or anyone on the parking committee," Peelen said. "Great care was taken to protect the parking spots needed for beach renourishment. Nobody spoke to any of us. Instead, they sent this quite threatening letter and that was really, to me, an outrageous thing to do."
Mayor Johnson described Hunzeker's letter as only a "formal communication" that dates back to meetings he had with county officials 7-8 months ago.
"I'm well aware of all the issues here," he added. "That was just a formal communication of 'Be careful you don't screw it up.'"
On Thursday evening, Richard Brown sat in his front yard on Aqua Lane, where he's lived since 2010. The resident said he's sorry the trial program didn't receive more support. Brown has been a member of the island congestion committee for nearly two years and spoke about parking issues he and his neighbors have experienced on the street.
"Not a lot of people came to the beach today and we're not under siege," the 68-year-old retired salesman said. "But basically, we're under siege on popular days and on surf days."
In his interview Wednesday with a Herald reporter, Mayor Johnson stressed that the parking-by-permit program is a trial program. He told commissioners before that he would veto the program if it ever reached his desk.
"I don't think it's a solution that's appropriate at this time," Johnson said, adding that city staff told the commission some time ago that the city does not need to make permit parking a solution. "The problem exists only in certain times of the year. It's not a constant problem. There are very simple ways of dealing with it: with street signs."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.