By Rachel Brown Hackney
No date was set, but the Sarasota County commissioners agreed on April 10 to hold a formal discussion regarding the potential implementation of paid parking at Siesta Public Beach.
The suggestion came from Commissioner Alan Maio, who represents the Key as part of District 4.
In advance of the board’s regular meeting that day, Maio had provided his colleagues with the results of the surveys the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce had undertaken in recent months about the issue.
“I cannot go to a meeting on Siesta without the question about parking [arising],” Maio pointed out.
Even though the three surveys had different wording of the questions they posed to the organizations’ members, he continued, they asked “basically the same questions.” Among them was a focus on whether every county property owner should receive a decal or some other means of proof that the person would not have to pay to park at Siesta Public Beach, Maio said. Another asked for respondents’ views on whether the money collected should be utilized on Siesta Key.
The first survey was conducted by the SKA in October 2017, he noted. A letter the nonprofit sent the commissioners showed that 74.89% of the 693 members who answered the survey support paid parking at the beach. Additionally, many also approved of “some level of fee-based parking” for county taxpayers, the letter said.
“The SKA Board of Directors recommends that Sarasota County offer one discounted parking sticker or pass” to each property owner/taxpayer in the county, the letter continued, and it suggests that a fee in the range of $25 to $50 would be acceptable to SKA members.
Further, the letter pointed out, “SKA members strongly support the use of revenue from paid parking for maintenance of the Public Beach and beach access points, as well as for on-island and island access transportation.”
The Chamber survey found 64.8% of the 107 people who responded to its survey agreed that parking fees should be implemented at Siesta Public Beach, comparable to those in other beach communities, for people who do not own county property. Additionally, 84.8% of 140 respondents to a question asking whether all Sarasota County property owners should be accorded free parking answered, “Yes.” Finally, of the 138 people who responded to the question about whether all the money collected from parking fees should be used just on Siesta Key, 83.6% answered, “Yes.”
The Chamber material said the survey was sent to 581 members, with 165 responding.
The Condominium Council survey found 80.9% of its 279 respondents approved of a paid parking program at the beach, with 75.9% also saying all county property owners should be able to park for free. As for allocating every penny of the revenue to uses on the island, the approval rate hit the 90.3% mark.
Maio emphasized on April 10 that the majority view reflected by the three surveys was that “the burden of paying for the paid parking falls on the visitors.”
“This is not the place … for an extremely long conversation on [the issue],” Maio told his colleagues, addressing them during the Reports Section of the meeting. Therefore, he continued, he was hoping for consensus about the topic’s be scheduled as “a dedicated subject at a future — soon — a future County Commission meeting, so we can at least begin the process of discussing this.”
Maio predicted that it would “take several meetings before we get close to a decision on this.”
“I would support the conversation,” Chair Nancy Detert replied. However, she wanted to make sure all county residents have an opportunity to be involved in it.
“Absolutely,” Maio told her.
She also indicated strong support for residents of South County being allowed to park for free at Siesta Public Beach. “It’s going to be a fairness issue.”
Further, Detert said, she felt all the parking issues on Siesta should be addressed during the agenda item. That included the effort of county staff to transform a former Sheriff’s Office training facility site into a shell surface parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road. The property is owned by the county’s Public Utilities Department.
Maio reported in March that county Public Works Department staff was in the process of securing the demolition permit for the structure the Sheriff’s Office used. A second building on the property will need to remain there, staff has said, because it contains a water tank.
“I think it would be a great all-day workshop,” Detert said on April 10, referring to discussion of all the Siesta parking issues. “How does everyone else feel?” A couple of other commissioners answered, “Yes.”
Thus, Detert said, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis had consensus to plan on the agenda item.