Shell Beach, which sits on the north portion of Siesta Key, is well-regarded among residents for its secluded but public stretch of sand.
Driving past the intersection of North Shell Road and Higel Avenue on Siesta Key, it’s difficult to miss the bright orange sign proclaiming a “PARKING PROHIBITION” on the north end of the street that leads to Shell Beach.
Despite the sign — which also announced an upcoming traffic meeting on the matter — various cars dotted the roadway. Visitors grabbed beach chairs from their trunks, pulled their kids from the backseat and marched toward the sand, walking past the “no parking” signs that property owners had hung in front of their driveways.
Almost five years ago, the county agreed to renovate the north end of Shell Road for a total of $31,000 to improve parallel parking availability near to the isolated beach on Siesta Key.
Now, a petition to prohibit parking altogether along that stretch has been proposed to the county by local property owners — much to the dismay of those who argue that available parking is a necessity for a public space.
“They’re trying to take our parking away,” county resident Eva Anderson said at the June 3 Traffic Advisory Council meeting. “There are rocks being put where they shouldn’t be. Parking signs are being moved. Signs are being put up where they shouldn’t be. And people are just moving rocks out of the Gulf and trying to enclose their personal beach — which there is none.”
Anderson, who says she visits the public beach as often as five times a week, clutched a shell-shaped sign reading “More parking at Shell,” and said that a “war” had been raging over parking in the area for long enough.
And she wasn’t the only one to take notice.
“I went out there yesterday and all of the blockers that guide you in and block off the parking from people’s yards that are there have all been squared off,” said Holly Griffith, who began visiting Shell Beach on a weekly basis in 1997. “It’s no longer a rounded pull in. It’s been cut off at least 10 spots already — it’s cut off. The limit of the number of cars that can fit there is not what it was a few days ago.”
Attendees of the Monday traffic meeting largely argued that Shell Road was best left alone, if not expanded for further residential use.
34-year-old Daniel Fletcher, for instance, held a sign identical sign to Anderson’s and said he had been visiting the public beach since the age of 3. A parking prohibition, he says, could lead to a total loss of beach access.
“I’m here because of the Shell parking is literally going to be cut in half. And it should, instead, be increased,” he said. “That’s one way they shut down a beach, they eliminate the parking and then the people don’t come, and next thing you know there’s a wall there and a gate. And then you can’t even get to the beach.”
But the fate of Shell Road was ultimately left in question, as the advisory council failed to establish a quorum and was subsequently unable to vote on the matter — much to the chagrin of attendees, half of whom left the meeting following the announcement and many of whom said they had taken off work to be present.
Supporters of the parking prohibition were not in attendance at the meeting, though six residents signed the petition, citing such issues as difficulty accessing their driveways, observance of prohibited pets and concern over "illicit drug use" and "dangerous behavior" in the area.
The County Board of Commissioners cannot consider further action regarding Shell Road until after the Traffic Advisory Committee has taken a vote on the matter on Sept. 9
In the interim, parking will likely resume the same. According to Traffic Advisory Council Chairwoman Becky Ayech, an influx of violations may be the only thing to alter the parking situation until September.