A little more than a year ago, Sarasota mainstay Walt’s Fish Market and Restaurant was expanded to include a chickee bar. On it’s face, the move has paid off: Since the open-air bar, which often hosts live music, was built, turnout has increased. In the eyes of several residents on nearby Ivanhoe Street, though, that success has come with a price.
In January, eight property owners and residents signed a petition to prohibit parking on the south side of Ivanhoe. Residents presented the petition to the county’s Traffic Advisory Council in March. The document says the addition to Walt’s has negatively impacted traffic, pedestrian safety and the ability to enter and exit driveways on the dead-end street of about 20 residences.
In response to that petition, the County Commission considered an ordinance prohibiting parking on the south side of Ivanhoe Street at the commission’s June 19 meeting. The county’s Traffic Advisory Council had recommended against such an ordinance during its March meeting; and the commission postponed a decision, leaving the future of parking in the area stalled.
Brett Wallin, the owner of Walt’s, says any tension between him and the neighbors is overblown. According to Wallin, it’s a few loud voices in a crowd — mostly people new to the area and renters. He says the established residents are sympathetic to his cause.
Wallin believes he’s made efforts beyond what many business owners would do to help alleviate the problem. That includes securing alternative parking; Walt’s now uses the lot across the street after the hair salon on the property has closed for the day. He also has a parking attendant to direct customers toward overflow parking.
“Most people are just happy to get the business, and they don’t care about the neighbors,” Wallin said. “I went through a lot of money and a lot of hassle to get the parking lot.”
At the June 19 commission meeting, Steve Schember, a lawyer, spoke on behalf of Walt’s. He acknowledged street parking was an occasional issue, but said it wasn’t common.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s not a problem along here,” Schember said.
Those who have taken the time to voice their stance are a little more divided about the issue. According to Paula Wiggins, the county’s transportation planning manager, five people have written or spoken in favor of the no-parking measure, while four have been against it.
Sandy Fishbein lives at the end of Ivanhoe, and he says he’s been contacting county officials for a year to try and fix his problems. He believes Walt’s solutions aren’t adequate and that the county needs to re-evaluate the permits and parking plan for the restaurant.
Fishbein described the activity created on the dead-end street — trucks parking at the corner to make deliveries, pedestrians crossing a road without a crosswalk from the overflow lot — as a “catastrophe waiting to happen.”
“At worst, it’s dangerous,” Fishbein said. “At best, it’s an inconvenience.”
Often, Walt’s isn’t necessarily the central point of division. Thomas Jefferson lives at the end of Ivanhoe, where the road dips and a retaining wall limits his parking options. He parks two cars on the street, and he says a parking ban would render him unable to keep the vehicles near his home.
“I would have never bought my home if I knew 15 or 20 years later I wouldn’t be able to park my cars there, which I’ve always done,” Jefferson said at the County Commission meeting.
Several people are worried about their ability to host company if the ban were instituted. Marc Overfelt, who lives at 1832 Ivanhoe St., said Walt’s parking problem has largely subsided. He hosts an annual Christmas party that depends on street parking, and he says he’s not alone.
“I know our neighbors have parties; they have people who park on the street,” Overfelt said. “If we have these signs there, we wouldn’t be able to have them park on the street.”
Although the Traffic Advisory Council recommended against the parking ban, it suggested the institution of permitted parking on Ivanhoe — an idea two residents spoke in support of at the TAC meeting in March.
The County Commission won’t make a ruling until July 10. Wallin is hoping for a favorable outcome — for business, but also for maintaining the peace in the neighborhood.
“I like my neighbors,” Wallin said. “I don’t have a problem with anybody, to be honest with you.”
Fishbein also wants peace in the neighborhood but doesn’t think the maintenance of the status quo at Walt’s will accomplish that.
“I don’t think he’s being a very good neighbor,” Fishbein said.
Contact David Conway at email@example.com.
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