ANNA MARIA — After months of sometimes testy discussions, the city commission and the planning and zoning board have finally reached consensus about how the parking for the Pine Avenue business district should be handled.
“It may not be perfect, but thank heavens we’re finally doing something,” said Randall Stover, the chairman of the planning and zoning board.
With only City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus dissenting, the combined boards voted to move ahead with a plan that considers Pine Avenue as a whole, with some parallel and some angled on-street public parking on Pine and 90-degree head-in parking on the side streets that about Pine.
“We changed the focus of our comp plan,” Stoltzfus said. “I think this focus is on making a commercial district, to giving Anna Maria a working retail district.”
Stoltzfus said that’s not the focus of the comprehensive plan.
“This is a quantum leap from the comp plan,” he added.
Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick disagreed.
“Our comp plan says that we need a thriving central business district,” she said. “We are supposed to support businesses in the residential/office/retail district. It’s no quantum leap to say we want to be supportive of businesses.”
Commissioner Dale Woodland, in an effort to keep the discussion moving along, reminded everyone that they were just discussing a concept for the parking.
“We have plenty of time to criticize this, but let’s get back on track,” he suggested.
Woodland also reminded commissioners about what traffic and community expert Dan Burden said about the on street public parking concept in general.
“I thought Dan Burden recommended that we have back-in parking,” Woodland commented.
“We were not sure Anna Maria was ready to tackle that at the same time,” City Planner Alan Garrett said, bringing some laughter to the commission chambers.
Under the concept that has been approved, there will be parallel parking with spaces that are 25 feet long and eight feet wide.
“With that length, people can just pull in and pull out without much maneuvering,” Commission Chair John Quam noted.
Quam, Garrett and Burden walked the entire street a couple of weeks ago and assessed that the concept would work out with 205 parking spaces.
The concept would remove the requirement for on-site parking as businesses are developed along Pine Avenue.
It was agreed that the old requirements were a sort of strip mall plan that was resulting in a lot of wasted space and too much impervious surface.
The newly approved concept also has a provision for much more green space – some of it with cross walk islands that give pedestrians a chance to gather under shade and give them good visibility as they cross from one side of the street to the other.
“There will be no backing across sidewalks with this plan,” Quam stated.
The commission chair has consistently said that this has been his major concern about parking along Pine Avenue. This plan and this plan satisfied his concern, he said.
As the business district develops, a six-foot wide sidewalk will emerge, which will provide space for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
Tom Turner, a P&Z board member, wanted to make the requirements of the new plan retroactive so that the existing businesses would be required to place sidewalks between their businesses and the parking.
But City Attorney Jim Dye said that couldn’t legally be done.
Pine Avenue Restoration Managing Partner Micheal Coleman said he and his partners have said they’d do that anyway.
“When this is made into law, we’ve said all along that we’ll do whatever it takes to comply with the new rules, even if we aren’t required to,” he said.
Some fears were expressed that with the on-site parking requirements lifted, developers would build larger structures, but Garrett reminded board members that the setback and lot coverage requirements would take care of that.
The on-street parking concept now goes to the planning and zoning board where the details will be thrashed out and then brought to the full commission as a recommendation. Quam noted that he wants the plan to come before the commission by the end of July.
The final authority rests with the city commission.