Parking garage bill in high gear

    Parking garage bill in high gear
    If Manatee County leaders have their way, the view at Manatee Beach could look very different in the near future with the construction of a parking garage. - Submitted

    TALLAHASSEE – A bill in the Florida House of Representatives to circumvent Holmes Beach ordinances and build a three-story, 1,500-plus space parking garage has passed its first roadblock on the way to becoming a reality.

    HB 947, proposed by Manatee County Rep. Will Robinson Jr., passed the Federal Affairs and Special Districts subcommittee with a unanimous vote on March 15 despite Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, City Attorney Erica Augello and other city staff members making a trip to the Florida Capitol to speak in person during the meeting.

    After the subcommittee meeting, Titsworth said she was disappointed but not surprised at the outcome.

    “We knew ahead of time that they had the vote,” Titsworth said in a statement to The Sun. “We still went so we could at least and on record state our position. The staff did great. This is Florida government at its finest, unfortunately, and an exercise on what to expect when a city takes a stance on quality of life issues. We will continue to fight for home rule and to save our public beach.”

    During a March 14 city commission meeting, Augello and Titsworth both spoke about the hearing. The required economic impact statement filed with the bill and signed by Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione states that the proposed garage with a minimum of 1,500 parking spaces is forecast to bring in $4,698,900 in the first fiscal year after its completion and $4,823,300 in the second fiscal year. The garage is expected to cost $45 million to build with $400,000 in annual maintenance afterwards. Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said the garage’s parking spaces would have to be paid parking, around $2 per hour, to help pay for the construction and maintenance. The reasons for building the garage include providing additional public parking spaces for beachgoers and giving visitors more places to park to visit local businesses.

    During the March 14 meeting, Titsworth said that she doesn’t think the ultimate goal of Manatee County commissioners, who first proposed the garage, is to provide beach parking for locals but to provide parking for businesses in Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria.

    “It could turn into a bus depot to get other people to other parts of the Island,” Titsworth said of the garage. While Holmes Beach city leaders require businesses to absorb their own parking onsite or at an adjacent site, that isn’t the case in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, where businesses often have limited dedicated parking.

    The bill becomes effective if it passes three committees in the House along with a floor vote and passes the same process in the Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. If that happens, Manatee County commissioners can skip all city approvals and permits to issue their own permits for the construction of the parking garage on the county-owned property at Manatee Beach, located in the city at 4000 Gulf Drive. Van Ostenbridge previously said the new garage would include new bathroom, concession and retail facilities at the public beach. The garage is planned to cover the majority of the county-owned parcel, from the setback on the south next to West Coast Surf Shop to Gulf Drive. According to the bill, the garage is anticipated to not break the city’s three-story height restriction except for the elevator shaft going to the top floor of parking.

    City leaders passed an ordinance in 2022 specifying that parking garages are not an allowable land use in the city. The ordinance was a clarification as parking garages historically have not been a use in Holmes Beach except by special exception.

    Van Ostenbridge, who said he’d planned to propose a parking garage on the county-owned parcel before city commissioners passed the ordinance, said he felt like city leaders “kept moving the goalpost” so he broached the issue with the Manatee County legislative delegation, who voiced their support of the project during a January meeting. The proposed bill was born from there.

    Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said that he patrolled the city over a busy spring break weekend March 10-12 and found that parking wasn’t completely gone despite more than 35,000 cars coming into Holmes Beach each day.

    On Saturday, Tokajer said the public beach parking lot was filled by 11 a.m. with 79 public parking spaces empty citywide at noon and 52 available at 3 p.m. On Sunday, he said the beach lot filled at 10:30 a.m. but there were still 88 spaces near the beach open at 11:50 a.m. He said those numbers didn’t include any of the available spaces in city lots or open church lots that welcome visitor parking.

    Titsworth said that Robinson and Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse both took her up on an invitation to view the city’s available parking first-hand and that both were impressed with the amount of available parking. By the time Robinson toured the city, the bill had already been submitted for consideration. Kruse was noted during the March 15 hearing as lending his support to the proposed parking garage bill despite not appearing in person in Tallahassee.

    Since the first approval, the parking garage bill has moved to the Regulatory Reform and Economic Development subcommittee. If it passes there, it goes to the State Affairs Committee before a House floor vote.