PALMETTO -- Palmetto fisherman John Wilson got a shock when he returned to the Palmetto Boat Ramp on Riverside Drive near the Green Bridge after a fishing trip Sunday.
His truck and trailer had been towed from the vacant lot across the street.
“When I pulled my boat in I could see them towing other vehicles and I knew my truck was gone,” a still red hot Wilson said Thursday. “They had towed a dozen vehicles. I asked the tow guy what the heck he was doing and he said, ‘Can’t you see the sign?’ I never saw a sign. I’ve been parking there 10 years and had never seen a sign.”
Wilson is one of dozens of Palmetto Boat Ramp users who had their trucks and trailers towed over the past 10 days since two new “Tow Away Zone” signs were posted on the vacant property next to the former Shell gasoline station and bait shop near the Palmetto Boat Ramp.
Wilson paid $225 to Direct Towing of Sarasota to recover his truck and trailer.
Capt. Brady Nelson managed to rush back while his truck, “Bass-n-Bay,” was in the process of getting towed and he still had to pay $125 just to get it unhooked, he said.
The boaters complain that the two signs are small and inconspicuously placed.
“No one seems to care about we fishermen,” Wilson said. “What have we become, a back roads county?”
It seems a lack of communication between vacant lot owner Superior Bank N.A. of Sarasota and the city of Palmetto may have contributed to the towing victims’ frustration.
On Thursday, a representative for the bank and Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said that while the ban on parking in the vacant lot and the steep towing charges will continue for now, the bank and city will try to work out an arrangement where the lot can soon be used for parking legally.
“I sympathize with the boaters and I understand what the bank did,” Groover Bryant said. “Boaters don’t want to hear that the lot was posted. It had not been posted for five or six years. In today’s economy, $225 is a lot of money to lose. But the banker was just trying to protect his property.
“The bank representative and I will discuss this and try to reach a short term arrangement.”
The dust-up started when Superior Bank in Sarasota realized it was at risk of being sued if someone got injured in the vacant lot, which has been listed for $1.7 million across from the boat ramp, said senior vice president Steve Nadeau.
“We are a property owner that is selling a piece of property and trying to protect our liability,” Nadeau said.
Nadeau said he had aired his concerns with city officials about liability for several weeks and warned them of his plans to post the property.
Nadeau hired Direct Towing to tow vehicles after he said a Manatee tow company refused to do the job.
Apparently, the message that Nadeau was going to finally put up signs never made it to Groover Bryant, who found out Sunday from angry boaters.
“I didn’t know they were closing it off,” she said Thursday.
Groover Bryant directed city workers on Thursday to post signs at the boat ramp advising boaters not to park across the street.
Nadeau, who hopes the city and Manatee County will eventually buy his vacant lot to add to the limited parking in the area for boats and trailers, said his bank gets no money from the towing.
“I don’t want negative publicity,” Nedeau said. “All we are trying to do is the right thing.”
The boaters are not convinced.
“I think this whole thing was kind of sneaky,” Wilson said. “People have been parking here so long I think a little warning would have been appropriate. It’s certainly not a way for a bank to make friends.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.