Sarasota County Planning Commissioners approved a plan to turn county-owned property into 43 public parking spaces.
After more than three years of debate, a small public parking lot might be added to south Siesta Key.
Sarasota County commissioners first discussed in 2017 the possibility of converting a former Sarasota County Sheriff’s Training Office site at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road into public parking lot.
The county is now seeking a special exception permit to develop 0.54 acres of the parcel, which is currently operated by the public utilities department into a 43-space lot. It would include two handicapped-accessible spaces, motorcycle parking and bike racks.
County staffers envision a Siesta Breeze Trolley stop to link the lot, which is south of Stickney Point Road, to the rest of the island.
“We anticipate a combination of beachgoers and general visitors that may be doing anything on the island,” said Ken Stokes, an employee with the county’s public works and transportation department.
Several local business owners, such as Clayton Thompson from Clayton’s Siesta Grille, said the lot would benefit their businesses. Not only would it allow more parking for their customers, but it also would allow their employees to have more space to park, Thompson said.
“The parking situation on south Siesta is dire,” Thompson said. “Many customers can’t find a parking spot to go into our restaurants, and our workers can’t afford to pay $40 to park for their work shifts.”
However, some residents of the area have traffic and vandalism concerns and predict that lot users would walk straight through their private neighborhood to access the beach instead of walking north or south to beach access points.
Stokes said the county could install a map at the exit of the lot to show visitors where they can access the public beach.
“People do not pay attention to signs,” resident John Malfettone said. “The signs won’t direct people 1,000 yards in either direction. It won’t work. It’s just not human nature. People are going to take the shortest path, and then we have confrontations with these people.”
Planning Commission Member Drew Peters agreed, suggesting the lot be reserved for employee parking only. He suggested a decal that could be given to employees to gain access to the lot.
“From personal experience, I’m going to be voting against this unless we can figure out a way to make it for employees only because I think it’s detrimental to residents,” Peters said.
Other Planning Commission members, such as Colin Pember, recommended the lot be open to all members of the public but to have restricted hours, so the neighbors of the lot won’t be disturbed. He recommended operating hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Commission Chair Laura Benson, however, warned against limiting access to the lot and stated it could create an administrative headache for sheriff’s deputies if the lot followed different stipulations than other county lots on the key.
“I don’t know that we should be disallowing access to certain people,” Benson said. “I think it would be a mistake. There are many amenities and people that would benefit from the parking, and there are methods of patrolling the area outside of us making unnecessary stipulations.”
In the end, the Planning Commission approved the lot with an 8-1 vote. It will now go before the County Commission for final approval.