Editorial: Paving paradise

Anna Maria Island is changing and it has been for years. Our little Island has turned into a popular tourist destination and, while we love our visitors, especially the ones who come year after year and participate in the community, it’s hard not to feel like residents are getting pushed out in favor of beachgoers.

A bill is being considered at the state level that would have a parking garage built on the entire parking lot at Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach to overrule local regulations and allow Manatee County commissioners to issue their own building permit instead of going through a special exception request process with the Holmes Beach Commission.

The garage would hold 1,500-1,700 parking spaces after it’s built. What happens to all of the cars that are usually parked at the beach during the proposed two years of construction? Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge suggests opening all residential streets on AMI to beach parking for the duration of construction. If all residential streets are open to parking, and the four tires off the road street side parking regulations are lifted in the three Island cities, it has the very real potential to be a free-for-all where residents are severely outnumbered and have little to no chance of winning or preserving their quality of life.

Once the garage is built, it would be difficult to impossible to take back residential streets from parking and the garage will have a pay-per-hour system which would either have drivers circling residential streets looking for a free parking place or result in city leaders installing parking meters on the side of every road.

Imagine driving across the Anna Maria Island Bridge and instead of being greeted by a view of the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, you see a wall of concrete? Why not compromise and let the county build its parking garage on a different parcel, say the former Bank of America lot that’s only a block from the beach? The county would have to compromise by purchasing another piece of land and the city would have to compromise by allowing the garage to be built, but the existing parking at the public beach would remain open and there would be no need to open more residential streets to public parking for the beach without facilities, such as restrooms, concessions or adequate trash receptacles. If another garage is needed after the first one is built and open, put one up at the south end of the Manatee Beach parking lot. With 30,000-plus cars coming across the Anna Maria Island Bridge every day, it becomes a question of reasonableness and thinking about just how much a 7-mile island can take. We can only hope that our elected officials see reason before it’s too late.