There are more creative and private-sector options to solving the Village’s parking problems than creating a new government department.
When groups of citizens lobby their town commissions and city commissions to solve what the citizens regard as a nuisance, an intrusion damaging their ability to live in peace or, worse, a danger to their health, the predictable response is the elected officials always do what they feel compelled and pressured to do: write new laws (usually on top of existing laws) to redress the grievance.
That is why this nation of laws has so many laws. Everybody has a beef, and every person or group always wants government to fix the problem.
So it is in Longbeach Village.
Village residents are more agitated than ever about parking in their neighborhood — especially now that the new Shore restaurant has opened with a flourish, the remodeled and expanded Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant is drawing more patrons than in the past and Whitney’s cafe has opened in the former service station at Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive.
To make matters worse, when the coronavirus caused the shutdown of public beach parking on the west side of Broadway, beachgoers shifted their parking east of Gulf of Mexico Drive and into surrounding Village streets.
Village residents are exasperated and have let commissioners know they want new laws that will restore what they say they have lost — the quaintness of the Village.
At last week’s Longboat Key Town Commission meeting, commissioners obliged the residents and instructed the town’s planning and zoning staff to craft a new ordinance for their consideration that would establish a resident-only parking permit program for the Village, excluding the south side of Broadway and a portion of Lois Avenue that abuts Mar Vista and the town-owned boat launch.
We hope that by September, when commissioners will take up the proposed ordinance, they will have realized it is not the best choice. There are better, more creative options.
Although a resident-only parking permit program will satisfy Village residents, commissioners should consider the consequences: more government costs for Longboat taxpayers. As most laws do: satisfying a few at the expense of the many.
The town’s planning staff explicitly stated so in its June 8 memorandum to commissioners:
“A[n] RPP is often reported in the literature to be an expensive, labor-intensive program to install and maintain. The price of permits typically cover a small fraction of the expense involved with the installation and maintenance of the parking signs, police enforcement, printing and mailing costs, and program maintenance. RPPs are often subsidized by tax dollars to keep permit prices low.”
It doesn’t take much thinking to envision how a resident-only parking permit program for the Village will create a new department inside Town Hall, complete with a staff (salaries, benefits, pensions) to manage and enforce it. And if you have followed parking issues in the city of Sarasota, you know that its parking department has been a six- to seven-figure fiscal drain on taxpayers year after year.
Indeed, when have you ever seen a government program stay small and inexpensive?
In addition to the resident permit program, the town’s planning staff is recommending time-limited parking or paid parking along Broadway and Lois Avenue, the two most traveled streets. But like the permit idea, these two approaches will require more government expense, involvement and management as well.
Expanding government is not the only effective option.
Go back to the beginning. In its memo to the commission, the planning staff cited four issues most prevalent and bothersome to Village residents:
- Safety, including vehicular speeding and a desire for traffic calming measures;
- Impacts to residents from restaurant patrons and staff parking;
- Impacts to residents, primarily along Broadway Street, from beachgoers; and
- Parking of nonresidents on Village streets, including larger boat trailers associated with the town dock/boat ramp, primarily along Broadway Street.
Each of these can be addressed satisfactorily without instituting a resident-only permit program or metered parking on Broadway. For instance:
- Safety: The town already lowered the speed limit on Broadway to 20 mph. Speed bumps, though annoying, are still an option — albeit a last resort, we hope.
- Beachgoers parking on Broadway: Logically, beachgoers want to park as close to the beach as possible. The town should consider clearing the southwest parcel at Broadway and Gulf of Mexico to create more beach parking.
- Parking of nonresidents on Village streets. The commission already adopted parking prohibitions on portions of Linley, Lois, Russell and Poinsettia streets — the areas closest to the restaurants.
- Parking of boat trailers using the town boat ramp. How about this: Eliminate the boat ramp. Consider leasing the land to the restaurants for more parking. Or just turn it into a neighborhood waterfront park.
- Impacts of Shore and Mar Vista patrons and staff, parking along Broadway and Lois. As the planning staff noted in its memo, since March, Shore has secured 25 parking slots for its employees at Whitney Plaza. Chiles Group, owner of the Mar Vista, began developing an office and 98 parking slots on the vacant lot next to the empty bank building at 6020 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Although that project came to a halt because of the pandemic, if Chiles Group proceeds, that would provide ample additional parking for Mar Vista, and perhaps Shore as well, to provide adequate (if not mandatory) valet parking for its patrons.
You can envision an arrangement that includes signage — not a law — along the south side of Broadway pronouncing resident parking, along with a system whereby the two restaurants require their patrons to park in their lots or use valet.
Valet parking and paid parking are customary for restaurantgoers in downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle. The same would not be extraordinary for Shore and Mar Vista.
Striving for and testing private sector strategies are worth trying before resorting to the standard practice of more government cost and intervention.