Though commissioners agreed a public lot would be the easiest option, they continue to evaluate other options.
The Sarasota County Commission is again revisiting possible solutions to Siesta Key’s parking problem, after deciding in July to thoroughly examine options. A report from county staff outlined several possible actions the Commission could take to remedy the problem, or a mix of any.
Commissioners decided to take an “incremental” approach, meaning that county staff will return several times to the Commission to present more information about various options.
Commissioners first wanted to see more detailed information about using the land at 6647 Midnight Pass Road, once the Sheriff’s Office vacates the property later this year.
Preliminary plans for the site show that, after demolishing an existing building, the 1.8-acre parcel could offer up to 39 parking spaces at a price tag of more than $500,000. Commissioners asked to see some “number crunching” and a site plan for this, which is an option they agreed was easy to get started quickly on.
The other option that was widely discussed was paid parking on the Key.
Staff researched how surrounding counties approach paid parking. The variations were wide, but the report specifically highlighted Charlotte County’s method: charging $0.75 an hour for both residents and visitors at two public beach locations and eight boat ramps. The county also offers annual, six-month and three-month permits that cost the same to visitors and residents. Users can pay at pay stations using coins, cash or credit card, or pay using a smartphone app.
The revenue collected, the report states, supports the annual expenses for the program and the remaining balance goes into the General Fund.
County staff also attended a Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce meeting, where members voted to support paid parking at Siesta Beach under the following conditions: all county property owners will have free parking at Siesta Beach; non-property owners or renters can purchase a yearly pass; visitors would pay an hourly or daily rate; all proceeds from beach parking will be used on Siesta Key.
Aside from parking apps and oversight from the Sheriff’s department, which are used in several jurisdictions, some other areas enter a lease agreement with a private entity that oversees and operates the program.
Commissioners wanted to hear more, including more public input and information about what kind of consultant they could hire to help them navigate the complicated process of implementing a paid parking system, should they choose to do so.
“I like paid parking as the last of my options,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said, raising concerns about adding a cost to Siesta Key Beach — currently a free amenity.
Commissioner Charles Hines wanted to continue gathering more information about paid parking.
"This is the first time I’ve ever heard the community saying 'you know what, we really need to consider this,'" he said. "In the past it’s always been a resounding 'no, don’t you dare do it.'"
Another main option explored was a park and ride program, where visitors park their cars away from the beach, either at county-owned properties or at other schools, churches, malls, etc. that may have limited availability for cars to park there. The county currently owns the property on Midnight Pass Road, or another property at 5200 Oakmont Place, which is over twice the size of the first property.
Hines said that when it comes to this option, proximity is key. He believes using existing schools like Southside Elementary or Philippi Shores Elementary for a park and ride program wouldn’t work, because it’s just not close enough.
“It’s just too far,” he said. “It can’t be that far away that that trolley ride becomes an hour process.”
Hines also suggested a partnership with a private entity that owns property near the Key and may be interested in building a parking garage that the county could offer parking out of.
A bike sharing program or a water taxi service were also mentioned as possibilities, and as well as existing public transportation like the Siesta Breeze Trolley, SCAT busses and paratransit service.
County staff even reached out to Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, better known as “Dr. Beach,” for input on how paid parking may affect Siesta Beach’s ranking at the No. 1 beach in the nation. He told staff that parking fees are taken into consideration with regard to beach access, and “creative ideas” like the Breeze trolley are “notable.”
With multiple options still on the table, county staff will continue to bring more information back to the Commission moving forward.
“This is a huge conversation and it’s got a lot of tentacles,” Hines said. “I don’t want this conversation to die.”