*Correction: In response to parking issues on North Shell Road, County Commissioner Nora Patterson suggested that clearing brush at the end of the road might be one option to create more parking at Beach Access No. 1. A story in the Feb. 12 issue of the Pelican Press incorrectly stated that Patterson suggested cutting back mangrove trees.
In the height of season, a mad dash to find beach parking are not uncommon. Everyone is eager to enjoy the scenic views offered on Siesta Key’s beaches, and parking spots at access points quickly fill up. However, at Beach Access No. 1, the northernmost public access located on North Shell Road off Higel Avenue, some residents say the parking situation has gotten especially bad.
What makes parking so unique at Beach Access No. 1 is the fact that unlike most of the other access points, this one lies in a predominately residential area, which includes several homes and the new Solymar subdivision.
North Shell Road is fairly short, with only a handful of homes between Higel and the Gulf, and the actual beach isn’t large. Every day, the road is quickly filled with anxious beachgoers parking along either side. One resident says he’s counted as many as 33 cars on a busy day.
On especially busy days, many drivers park illegally, partially or completely blocking residents’ driveways, and many are worried about a potential loss of access to emergency vehicles.
“Some days, I question whether or not an emergency vehicle would be able to make it down here or not,” said Chuck McGovern, a North Shell Road resident.
Another resident, Sharon Carole, expressed similar concerns.
“I have trouble getting in and out of my house, and I’m worried about emergency vehicles getting to us,” she said. “I’ve had some people park on our landscaping and break the sprinkler heads.”
Other residents have reported that the beach access’ isolated location has led to some users disregarding the rules of the beach. Some residents report having seen smoking, dogs on the beach, trespassing on private property and some late-night partying and noise disturbances. The influx of people, combined with the lack of a public restroom, has also created its own problem.
However, McGovern says that much of the crude behavior that has been a problem in the past six to eight months seems to have dissipated.
“You have isolated incidents,” said McGovern. “Eighty percent of the people are considerate, and they don’t park in your driveway or stay out on the beach until 1 a.m. Other people aren’t as considerate, and it does create a problem.”
At one point, North Shell Road and Shell Road, located farther south on Higel Avenue, were connected in a horseshoe shape, with all land west of the loop considered public access, but that property has since become privately owned, and the county now maintains an 80-foot access at the end of North Shell Road, much of which is overgrown with mangroves and brush.
Some residents feel the solution to the problem lies in clearing the brush at the beach end of the access, and consolidating beach parking in that area. Others want to widen the road to move parking off of the street, and still others want to eliminate street parking altogether and only allow beachgoers to park in the five spaces along the beach.
McGovern says finding a solution is difficult. Although he wants to see a safe, organized parking situation, he doesn’t want to prevent people from being able to use the access.
“I don’t know what the magic solution would be,” said McGovern. “But I’m torn. I’m not one of those people who thinks that I have mine, and nobody else should have theirs.”
Some of the residents recently brought their concerns to County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
“Right now, it’s a mess,” said Patterson. “People are parking all over, it’s hard to turn around, and it’s very unattractive. I think you could formalize some parking and maybe cut back some of the mangroves. It could be done attractively. I think if you had to choose between keeping the access and having it go away, nobody would choose to have it go away.”