Signs promising free public parking convenient to Burns Square are still standing near the lot at Orange Avenue and Laurel Street, but it’s a promise the city no longer stands behind.
An agreement between the city and the owner of the parking lot, Saunders Family Limited Partnership, which allowed for public parking in the lot, expired July 25. It’s a decision that’s taken some Burns Square business and property owners by surprise.
Cherylyn Van Kirk, a member of the Burns Court Neighborhood Association, was named the point person regarding parking in the area while the city debated whether to renew the agreement. Despite the fact that she has been taking the lead on the issue since the spring, she wasn’t made aware of the city’s decision until Aug. 2.
Van Kirk, owner of Starflower Essentials, 411 S. Pineapple Ave., criticized the city’s lack of communication with Burns Square stakeholders. She said that the decision to let the parking lot agreement expire “outraged” merchants because the parking lot, with 63 spaces, was essential for those working at and patronizing businesses in the area.
Beyond that, she said the city has been unclear as to what the next step will be to address parking needs in Burns Square.
“We don’t quite understand why Burns Court and Burns Square is being undervalued as a viable contingency for the city, why we’re being treated like this,” Van Kirk said.
The decision was made to let the parking license agreement with Saunders Family Limited Partnership expire after the City Commission did not direct staff to renew the contract, city Parking Director Mark Lyons said.
City commissioners discussed renewing the lease at a July 3 commission meeting. Commissioner Susan Chapman said the onus should be on businesses, not the city, to secure parking for private use.
Lyons said the city has communicated that directive to Burns Square business owners. He said it was still early in the process, and that there were hundreds of street spaces in the area to use while multiple avenues are explored.
“We certainly have encouraged them to form some other business group — similar to our Downtown Improvement District within downtown, or some other sort of mechanism — that would help them fund parking within their district,” Lyons said.
Denise Kowal, founder and chairwoman of the Sarasota Chalk Festival, is also the owner of a building in Burns Court that contains residential and commercial units. She said her building — mixed use, with frontage on Orange Avenue — represents something the city is seeking in creating a walkable city center. In exchange for preserving property of that nature, which frequently has little or no parking space, Kowal thinks the city should fill the parking gap.
“If they want people like me to maintain a historic structure, then they have to have the sustainable elements in place so that the area can continue to prosper,” Kowal said.
Kowal pointed to the Downtown Parking Master Plan from 2005, which listed a parking garage at Laurel Street and Orange Avenue as the No. 3 priority behind garages on Palm Avenue and State Street, as evidence that the city knows Burns Square is in need of parking beyond what’s available on the street. She said the city should stick to that plan, rather than leaving the fate of Burns Square parking in the hands of the commission.
“You can’t reinvent the wheel in a small committee, which is what they’re trying to do with this situation,” Kowal said. “They’re trying to design something different by committee, which is ridiculous; we already did this.”
Lyons, along with City Manager Tom Barwin, will meet with the Burns Square Neighborhood Association Sept. 5 to discuss the parking situation in the area.
Van Kirk said she was looking forward to finally discovering what the city had in mind for Burns Square businesses in need of parking. Kowal, on the other hand, expressed her dismay that a meeting was even necessary in the first place.
“I find it frustrating that we’re having a meeting about something that is 100% a no-brainer,” Kowal said.
Contact David Conway at [email protected]