A brief issue associated with a new valet operation speaks to a larger question regarding parking management.
Shortly after the Summer House restaurant opened on Avenida Messina in March, residents began complaining about how the business’ valet operation was affecting traffic in Siesta Key Village.
During a May meeting of the Siesta Key Association, those in attendance were in general agreement that the service was an issue that needed to be addressed.
“I don’t know how there hasn’t been multiple accidents,” one resident said.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it had received multiple complaints about that specific valet operation. Residents said the valet caused traffic to back up and blocked off public parking spaces.
Since that meeting, management for the Summer House agreed to move the valet stand farther down the street to alleviate congestion, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Complaints associated with the valet operation have since stopped.
Even though concerns related to the Summer House have been addressed, the issue highlights a larger question about managing parking in Siesta Key Village. The county has unique regulations regarding valet stands for restaurants and bars on the barrier island.
Elsewhere in the unincorporated county, before the county approves a valet operation, the business owner must prove the design does not cause cars to queue in traffic. On Siesta Key, however, valets at restaurants and bars are allowed to have cars queue in the public right of way.
Mark Smith, architect on the Summer House project and past board chairman of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, said the regulations are a reflection of a parking shortage in the village. If the county did not permit queuing in the streets, Smith said businesses would struggle to find room to stage valet operations.
And Smith believes valet stands are particularly important in Siesta Key Village because the alternative is motorists driving in circles, hoping to find an open space in a crowded commercial district.
“We just don’t have the room,” Smith said. “It’s much better to get these cars off the street.”
Although the Sheriff’s Office said complaints stopped after the Summer House reconfigured the valet stand, the department also noted there had been a natural decrease in traffic after spring break. Smith said concerns about valets in the village — not just at the Summer House — are seasonal, tied to other traffic-related issues.
As a result, Smith thinks some residents are likely to once again point to valets as a factor for congestion in Siesta Key Village next year. He argues that the congestion is a “nice problem to have,” indicative of the vitality of the island as a destination.
And he believes that, barring any changes to the parking shortage on Siesta Key, the valet stands are a helpful tool for getting cars off the streets as quickly as possible.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of complaints,” Smith said. “But I think for the most part, it works.”
Staff writer Cassidy Alexander contributed reporting.