The sandy beaches on Anna Maria Island are treasures to most everyone in Manatee County and well beyond. The worldwide acclaim is priceless. When Conde Nast Traveler selected Coquina Beach as having the best island beach sand in the United States and fifth best in the world this year, that distinction earned Bradenton Beach -- home to Coquina -- quite an honor.
And that could come with more visitors. And more vehicle traffic. And parking issues.
Holmes Beach, home to the popular county-owned Manatee Public Beach, is grappling with the parking conundrum with the idea of instituting a decal program in congested parts of the city and eliminating street parking unless signs give permission.
Under the proposal, those decals would be issued to residents and property owners. City officials welcome beach-goers but want to discourage vehicle overcrowding in certain neighborhoods -- a very reasonable policy given the overbearing crowds.
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Holmes Beach should proceed with caution and be certain that any ordinance does not jeopardize government funding of beach renourishment. The city would be held accountable for violating federal and state regulations that demand specific public parking availability.
Beaches are critical to tourism. That sand is also critical to property values, not just on beachfront properties but everywhere on the island.
Beach renourishment costs millions. Erosion happens, especially during storm season. Sand washes away. Groins, like the new project to replace the ones on Coquina Beach, diminish wave action.
Coquina, though, was once lackluster until a 2012 sand project that extended the beach out into the Gulf and put a sugary surface over the old foot-aggravating tiny sea shells. How else would Conde Nast Traveler have awarded the beach global significance?
Parking access is central to beach renourishment funding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection brook no nonsense in determining eligibility for project money.
The standards are simple. There must be a certain number of public parking spaces open within a quarter mile of a beach. Every single parking spot is counted. Paid parking is acceptable under the rules.
Consultants walked every street on Anna Maria Island in 2014 and found the municipalities in 100 percent compliance with this eligibility, Charlie Hunsicker, the longtime director of Manatee County's Parks and Natural Resources Department, told this Editorial Board.
But the county has no control over city parking.
Should any municipality adopt rules that reduce public access to beaches by 10 percent, the city would be held liable for 10 percent of the costs of a beach renourishment project, Hunsicker noted.
Would Holmes Beach property owners find that acceptable, should any new ordinance create that scenario?
On average, Hunsicker said, 10 to 12 feet of sand erode annually. Manatee County pays a big share of renourishment through its tourism tax. The county will not pay more should an island city restrict parking and violate the funding rules, Hunsicker said.
Longboat Key property owners pay an extra assessment for beach renourishment, willing to accept that in exchange for limiting public parking and access to the beaches.
Anna Maria Island remains a unique Old Florida destination. Yes, seasonal crowds clog the island with traffic. The three cities should convene an island-wide meeting to find a solution, and engage Manatee County government.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told this board that he's in favor of a mainland parking garage and public transportation to the island to relieve congestion.
Those kind of big ideas are needed. We urge Holmes Beach to pursue bigger ones than parking decals.