ANNA MARIA – Commissioners continue to work on resolving parking issues on Pine Avenue that were brought to their attention by members of Roser Church and the city pier leaseholder.
"With our economy, a lot more people are staying closer to home or they are vacationing here, and we don't have the facilities to accommodate all the people who want to come here," said Roger Roark, chair of the congregation of Roser Memorial Community Church.
Roark sent the city a letter in February seeking relief from unauthorized parking by people visiting, shopping and sightseeing on Pine Avenue.
At the same time, city pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder asked the city to reconsider the commission's decision to eliminate parking in the six lots at the corner of North Bay Boulevard and Pine Avenue.
Work with community
"For the last two years, we have been providing spaces for parking and we don't know who these people are. There's a liability for us," Roark said.
"We are a community church and we want to work with the community and be a good neighbor. We are open to any type of solution."
The church provides space for three businesses on the street – Sato Real Estate, the Green Village and the City Pier Restaurant, Roark pointed out. The church also needs parking for events for its congregation and the community.
"If you close the parking at the end of Pine Avenue the first of May, that would take up and additional 15 to 20 spaces," Roark added. "Where are those people going to park?
"If you put a park in there that would be another attraction. We're the closest open space around there."
Chair Chuck Webb asked which lots are affected, and Roark said the thrift shop lot and the fellowship hall lot. Roark added that all of Roser's lots have signs indicating church parking only.
Webb asked if they had considered charging for parking, and Roark said it has been discussed.
Mayor Mike Selby said he met with Ed Chiles, of Pine Avenue Restoration, which developed several of the buildings on the street, and he recommended that the merchants on Pine pay the church $1,500 to use the parking area at the thrift shop.
Roark said the church would be receptive to the idea, but it doesn't want manage a parking lot and would rather lease it.
"I think if we had a designated area, it would resolve some of our problems," Roark said. "That would open up some of the other areas being used by shoppers."
Selby said parking lots are not allowed in that zoning district, and Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said the lot could be leased to the businesses, which could offer free public parking.
Mattick asked if the church would have a problem with the city using the 50- by 100-foot right of way at the end of Tarpon Street, and Roark said it would only need the space if it had a large memorial service.
Selby said they would continue to work on a solution, and he would be the liaison with the church, and Chiles would be the liaison with the business owners.
"I want to emphasize that this it not about the city pier asking for more parking," Schoenfelder told the board. "People (parking in the city pier lot) are not visitors of the city pier or customers of the restaurant, and our customers are forced to seek other spaces.
"There used to be signs (that said) city pier parking, but after the remodeling of the parking spaces, they are gone. Since this new beach, people are parking on the spaces that we pay rent for and going to the beach all day."
He asked the city to enable them to use the spaces that are part of the lease agreement.
"One of the things we are faced with is we have more and more attractions in the commercial area and we're getting more and more squeezed," pier manager Dave Sork added.
"Some remedy may be the six lots the city purchased and how to utilize that area to serve the needs of the community both as a park and as a parking area."
Parking at the park
Sork presented a drawing showing angled parking around the six lots on North Bay Boulevard and along Pine Avenue and another showing angled parking along the back of the six lots and along the canal. Both showed an open park area in the center.
"The park as well as the new beach is putting an awful lot of pressure (on the area)," he said. "On Easter Sunday, there were 18 separate parties on that beach."
Commissioner John Quam said he advocated a plan showing 18 parking spaces along North Bay Boulevard, but he is not sure about having parking on Pine Avenue.
"I wanted to shut down the six lot parking, and I compromised on (doing it) May 1," Commissioner Dale Woodland. "I don't like the city paying $2.8 million for those lots and using them for a parking lot for businesses that make money."
He said he's willing to leave the parking the way it is to give commissioners time to find a solution.
Mattick agreed with having parking long North Bay Boulevard, and added, "The pier is a valuable asset, and we need to have adequate parking. There's tons of space to have a park and parking."
Webb asked Sork to get scale drawing of the angled parking and told him to re-install the parking for pier only signs. He said the city should put up a sign directing people to park at Bayfront Park and said the commission would continue the discussion at the next meeting on April 26.