Paid Island parking rejected by local leaders

Paid Island parking rejected by local leaders
An upcoming conversation between Manatee County Commissioners could end with these parking spaces requiring drivers to feed a meter when parking at the Manatee Public Beach and other beaches or public boat ramps in the county. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – If there’s one thing the leaders of the four Island cities, including Longboat Key, can agree on, it’s that they don’t support paid parking at Manatee County beaches or at county boat ramps.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore attended the April 9 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting, held at Bradenton Beach City Hall, to gather the opinions of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key elected leaders before beginning official talks with her fellow county commissioners.

Whitmore said she’s opposed to any paid parking on Anna Maria Island because she feels it takes away from the community feel of the area. If she had to choose a type of paid parking though, she said she’d rather have paid parking at county-maintained boat ramps than at the beaches.

Island community leaders said they’d rather see county commissioners find a different way to deal with the expense of required maintenance at boat ramps than charge people for parking.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said she feels that there isn’t enough parking available at the county-maintained boat ramps, including Kingfish boat ramp on Manatee Avenue, to contribute in any real way toward the millions of dollars it takes to periodically renovate boat ramps.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie agreed, saying that there are only about two dozen parking spaces at the newly renovated Coquina boat ramp, not enough to be a good financial source for the county.

Whitmore said the county relies on general funds, West Coast Inland Navigational District (WCIND) grants and funds from boater registration to pay for maintenance and upgrades to the county-maintained boat ramps. Because of the limited amount of funds available, she said the county is behind on needed repairs to boat ramps like Kingfish and is now looking at spending a lot of time and money to get the newly-acquired Palma Sola boat ramp, located on the southwestern end of the causeway, back to a safe operating state. A large-scale renovation at Kingfish boat ramp also is on the horizon.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Jake Spooner said that he’s not in favor of paid parking, tolls or anything that might discourage families, particularly those with limited financial means, from enjoying the outdoor activities offered for free at the local beaches and boat ramps.

“It’s not just about the money,” he said. “There’s other ways of finding the money.”

Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek added that having paid parking at public beaches would push parking into nearby residential neighborhoods, adding to the strain already felt by residents due to the increasing tourism on the Island.

Though the city leaders did not support paid parking, they did support signage for the Cortez Road and Anna Maria Island bridges that would alert motorists to parking availability at boat ramps and beaches.

While Whitmore pointed out that many people would ignore the signs, West Manatee Fire Rescue Commissioner Al Robinson said that even if only 5 percent of people turn around rather than crowd onto the Island’s streets when parking is full, the investment in the signs, controlled by local law enforcement, would be worth the funds.

Whitmore said she’d ask the county and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council about funding for the project.