Parking garage bill speeds through committees

TALLAHASSEE – A bill proposing to build a three-story, 1,500-plus-space parking garage in Holmes Beach is speeding toward approval.

House Bill 947, proposed by Manatee County Rep. Will Robinson Jr., passed the Regulatory Reform and Economic Development Subcommittee on March 22 with the unanimous approval of all members present at the Florida House of Representatives with a change to line 15, submitted by Robinson, addressing the enforcement of the bill. The line states that the parking garage can be constructed within the “territorial boundaries of the city of Holmes Beach, without obtaining any permit, approval, consent, or letter of no objection from the city of Holmes Beach.”

The bill is now in the State Affairs Committee for consideration before moving to the House floor for a vote. If the bill passes those two votes, it moves on to the Florida Senate for consideration. If approved there, it would go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk on July 1 to be vetoed or signed into law.

Though not in Tallahassee this week, Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse appeared before the Local Administration, Federal Affairs and Special Districts Subcommittee on March 15 to voice his support for the bill.

In a talk with The Sun, Kruse said he was in the state capitol for another matter, but the trip coincided with the first committee hearing on the parking garage bill and he wanted to lend support to Robinson.

The hearing was also attended by Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth along with several members of city staff. Titsworth, along with many Island residents and property owners, opposes the construction of a parking garage at Manatee Beach, which is owned by Manatee County but located in Holmes Beach. City leaders passed an ordinance in 2022 banning the construction of multi-level parking garages in the city except by special exception. Though parking garages were previously not an allowable land use in the city without a special exception, the passage of the ordinance bolstered the prohibition after county commissioners began discussing the possibility of building a parking garage in the city as an answer to beachgoer parking constraints.

Kruse said that while he understands that a special exception hearing before city commissioners could have been undertaken by the county, he thinks it would have been a waste of time, effort and taxpayer money due to city commissioners’ passage of the parking garage ban, resulting in county commissioners pushing the matter to the state level.

As of press time for The Sun, Kruse is the only Manatee County commissioner to have taken Titsworth up on her offer to tour the city’s available beach parking. Kruse said he embarked on the parking tour following a town hall meeting he held at the Island Branch Library, and said he spent more than two hours touring city streets and talking with the mayor about parking.

“We looked at probably 100% of the parking spaces,” Kruse said. “I said it when I was up in Tallahassee, I 100% gave Holmes Beach credit. What they’re working on right now is great. What they’re working on is going to be much more hospitable, much more welcoming to residents of Manatee County, staycationers and tourists.”

Holmes Beach city leaders are working to remove sign pollution, placing green numbered parking spot indicators near beach access points and working on an interactive app, with the installation of parking sensors, that can alert visitors to where available parking is located in real-time. The city also provides a map on its website that identifies public parking areas.

“I think everything that Holmes Beach is doing is amazing. It’s great. It’s going to make a world of difference,” Kruse said, adding that he feels that the bill at the state level may be pushing city leaders to work to resolve parking issues.

And though he said the city is addressing parking in as much as they have the capacity to do so, he doesn’t feel the solutions or even the proposed parking garage will fix all of the parking and traffic issues on Anna Maria Island. Even with the loss of the 400-plus parking spaces currently available at Manatee Beach, the parking garage would net 1,000 or more parking spaces, which Kruse said could potentially help provide more spaces for Manatee County residents and visitors.

“I do not think putting a parking garage there is going to fix our parking problem,” he said. “I support the concept of the parking garage. I support Rep. Robinson’s bill.”

“At the end of the day this is a large project in a large CIP within the county that has hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars of projects,” Kruse said. “So, I need numbers first. I need financials first. I’m a realist and I’m somebody who assesses everything with facts. So, I, at the end of the day, need to see where is $30-45 million coming from? What is the timeline for completion? What are we going to do with 400-plus parking spots in the interim during construction? That’s information I don’t have yet because the bill hasn’t passed yet, so we haven’t gone through it. We get to our CIP discussions in the summer when we go through budget, so this hasn’t come up specifically. I support the concept of allowing the county a very reasonable height and reasonable footprint to build additional parking for citizens of the county. Is it 100% guaranteed it’s going to get built? Probably. I know my board. ButamI100%soldonit?Ineedtosee where those numbers are coming from. Is that the best use of $45 million? And maybe it is. I support the concept. I support the idea of giving us the option. And I think that’s the heart and soul of it.”

Kruse added that he feels there could be better answers to the parking and traffic congestion issues on the Island, primarily the installation of a third lane on the Anna Maria Island Bridge along Manatee Avenue to allow for a dedicated first responder and transit lane. With a dedicated transit lane, he said he feels people would be more likely to ride a shuttle service to the beach with their gear if it allowed them to bypass traffic. The reconstruction of the Anna Maria Island Bridge is on the Florida Department of Transportation’s project priorities list but is unfunded.