Various viewpoints emerge in Siesta Key Association’s survey results on paid beach parking issue

Siesta Key Condominium Council to ask its members’ opinions, too

Siesta Public Beach’s status as No. 1 in the U.S. in 2011 and again this year has made it even more popular for visitors. File photo

As the Sarasota County Commission continues to grapple with the potential of charging people to park at Siesta Public Beach, the board members have made it clear they want to hear from the public, especially Siesta Key residents.

Two organizations already have announced their positions on the issue, based on discussions with their members, county staff told the board during an Oct. 11 discussion. A third, the Siesta Key Condominium Council, plans to survey its members, as well.

Diane Erne, vice president of the Condominium Council, told The Sarasota News Leader in an Oct. 24 telephone interview that no definitive timeline has been set for that survey. However, she said she anticipated that it would be undertaken in November.

“It’s a difficult issue,” she said, adding that she expects residents of condominium complexes located directly on the beach will have different views about paid parking than those who live in other areas of the island.

A fourth Siesta Key organization, which used to represent business owners, no longer exists, Commissioner Alan Maio reminded his colleagues on Oct. 11: The Siesta Key Village Association was merged into the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce at the beginning of this year.

Both the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce have reported member support for implementation of a paid parking program. Yet, each also has emphasized the desire for special considerations for county property owners and for the use of the proceeds.

In response to a survey it issued in August to its more than 2,000 members, the SKA found that 74.89% of the 693 respondents were in favor of people paying to park at Siesta Key Public Beach. Replying to a question about whether they wanted to see the county charge in other locations — such as Turtle Beach Park and the Municipal Lot in Siesta Village — the majority — 54.09% — felt a payment system should be implemented only at the public beach park. Of the 514 respondents, however, 250 — 48.64% — felt the county also should charge for parking at all of its beach accesses on the Key. The smallest number — 150 — thought a payment system was appropriate in the Municipal Lot.

In further refinement of the paid parking question, the SKA survey asked whether members believe certain groups should be allowed to park without charge or at reduced rates. The choices were as follows:

  • People who arrive early and leave by a specified hour, such as those who come to the beach between 6 and 10 a.m.
  • People who arrive after a specified hour, such as 5 p.m.
  • Sarasota County property owners whose primary legal residence is not in Sarasota County.
  • People whose primary legal residence is in the county.

The highest number of responses — 492 — supported that last option; of those 46.14% believed those property owners whose domiciles are in Sarasota County should be able to park for free. Yet, 32.11% of that group indicated they preferred a reduced rate.

The SKA survey shows the majority of members who responded favor some form of paid parking at the beach. Image courtesy SKA

Of the 489 people who expressed a view about fees for those county property owners whose domiciles are elsewhere, 41.92% said the owners should pay the full rate.

The Board of Directors of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce announced that nonprofit’s position during a quarterly meeting of members in August: “All Sarasota County property owners,” Chair Mark Smith said, should be able to park for free at the beach.

That prompted discussion among attendees about whether people who own multiple homes, for example, should be able to get exemptions that they would pass along to renters in many cases.

In an Oct. 9 letter to the County Commission, the SKA directors recommended that the county offer “one discounted parking sticker or pass” to each county taxpayer, regardless of whether the person is a full- or part-time resident. “We leave it to the wisdom of the Commissioners to determine the fee,” the letter continued, but the directors suggested an amount “in the range of” $25 to $50.

The letter also said, “We presume that County Staff and the Commissioners will review the possibility of fee-free off-peak hours with their Parking Management consultants.”

County commissioners posed questions themselves on Oct. 11 about how taxpayers should be treated.

Should every property owner get one free pass or two, for example, Commissioner Maio asked. Should owners of commercial property be exempt from paying? he continued.

Should the owner of every condominium in every complex get a parking pass, Maio added, when — in most cases — condo residents have ample parking at their facilities and many conveniently can ride bicycles or take the free Siesta Key Breeze trolley to the beach?

The SKA survey shows these results about use of proceeds from parking payments. Image courtesy SKA

Island residents have benefited from the county’s operation of the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, Commissioner Charles Hines pointed out. That free service was launched on March 20. Many residents have been able to avoid using their cars to travel between their condos and Siesta Village, he noted.

During the Aug. 16 Siesta Chamber meeting, Chair Smith was adamant in telling the audience members that the board’s lengthy discussion about the issue concluded with the view that all property owners should be able to park for free.

On Oct. 11, Commissioner Nancy Detert told her colleagues that she does not believe imposing a parking fee at the beach will encourage anyone to “vacate [the] space for the next person.” People will spend the same amount of time at the beach, she added, “and just complain about the cost, human nature being what it is.”

During the August Chamber meeting, Smith also stressed, “All proceeds from Siesta Beach paid parking would be used on Siesta Key. That’s what we believe it should be.”

Another SKA survey question shows a clear majority of respondents favors park-and-ride options. Image courtesy SKA

In response to the SKA survey, 59.52% of the 499 people who answered a question about the proceeds said 100% of the money “should be invested in projects that support Siesta Key needs for transportation and parking.” The next highest percentage of respondents — 20.04% — felt that 75% of the proceeds should be directed to those purposes.

Commissioners on Oct. 11 talked about using at least some of the money to continue the Siesta Key Breeze’s operations after grant funds run out and, potentially, to add more legs to the route.

Other points for consideration

The responses to this question show a lot of variation. Image courtesy SKA

In their Oct. 9 letter to the County Commission, the SKA directors first pointed out that while the organization “strongly supports the implementation of some form of paid parking at Siesta Key Public Beach,” it also “believes this can only be done effectively if accompanied by consistent enforcement of no-parking zones on Siesta Key to prevent beach visitors from trying to evade parking charges by parking on restricted neighborhood streets.”

In 2013, the SKA championed the efforts of residents on Avenida de Mayo to win new parking restrictions on their street, as more and more visitors were leaving vehicles on both sides of the road. The situation was almost untenable on holiday weekends and during special events, residents said, with many voicing alarm that an emergency vehicle would not be able to traverse Avenida de Mayo if someone needed EMS assistance or a house fire broke out.

After then-Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias concurred with the latter concern, the county commissioners in August 2013 asked county transportation staff to work with Tobias and his employees in an initiative to stripe parking spaces and erect signage to remedy the situation.

Finally, the Oct. 9 SKA letter said, “Irrespective of paid parking on Siesta Key, SKA members are greatly concerned about restoring safe and reasonable traffic service levels on-island and to and from the island. The SKA Board of Directors strongly encourages the Commissioners to explore and implement off-island parking and transportation solutions as a high priority.”