In a split vote Wednesday, the Sarasota County Commission approved a plan to renovate North Shell Road on Siesta Key to make parking at the popular beach access site more organized and easier for Sheriff’s deputies to regulate.
The $30,627 renovations will create 17 parking spots along the road, which currently has no delineated parking spots, and will eliminate a pedestrian sidewalk to add six parallel park spots. North Shell Road is located off Higel Avenue on the north end of Siesta Key.
In May, the County Commission requested staff explore organized parking along North Shell Road due to reports parking there was unorganized and hard to enforce for sheriff’s deputies.
Nearby residents pushed for the move, claiming beachgoers were vandalizing their property, littering, excessively drinking, using illegal drugs, playing loud music and committing other acts of public indecency. Residents expressed concern over the lack of law-enforcement presence to enforce violations.
"The issue is parking, and the salient point here is safety," said Robert Shaw, a Siesta Key resident, Wednesday.
Public Works Transportation staff organized meetings with staff from Parks and Recreation, Fire Department, Sheriff’s Office, the Office of Neighborhood Services and residents in an effort to draft potential solutions.
Residents were generally in favor of organizing and delineating parking spaces along the street to maintain order and access for emergency vehicles.
County commissioners agreed changes were necessary, but were split on the size and shape of the project.
County staff proposed four options for commissioners to consider, ranging from 12 to 17 parking spots, and from $23,267 to $44,111 in cost.
Two motions failed, one from Commissioner Joe Barbetta and one from Commissioner Nora Patterson.
Barbetta pushed for option one, which preserved a nearby sidewalk and included the fewest parking spots.
“Whenever I’m faced with accommodating cars or accommodating people, I choose to accommodate people,” Barbetta said. “To me, it’s all about public safety. For us to go through the motions to pick up another six or seven parking spots is not worth the cost to public safety.”
The board ultimately voted 3-2 to approve option three, which includes 17 parking spots. Wednesday’s vote also called for the elimination of one of the option three’s planned parking spots at the intersection of Solymar Drive and North Shell Road.
“I think this is a balancing act,” County Commissioner Christine Robinson said. “I think this will allow enough parking to balance the public access interest with the neighborhood interests. I understand not everyone will be happy, but I think this is a compromise solution.”
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