Siesta Key residents who thought they scored a victory when the county passed a no-parking resolution for sections of Avenida de Mayo have discovered a disappointing truth: People are still parking there.
In January, the County Commission approved parking restrictions on parts of Avenida de Mayo, which had become a heavily used overflow parking option for Siesta beachgoers and shoppers. The resolution banned parking on both sides of the street between Canal Road and Avenida de Cortez, and installed staggered 500-foot no-parking zones between Avenida de Cortez and Avenida del Norte.
The residents cited safety concerns and residential issues in getting the parking banned. Before the parking restrictions were in place, Avenida de Mayo resident Pat Conte said cars blocked driveways, and Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias said parked cars limited access for emergency vehicles along the street. The commission acted upon those complaints, but Siesta Key Association President Michael Shay said the restrictions are not being stringently enforced.
“The sheriff’s officers are not making that stop as part of their routine,” Shay said. “The only way tickets get issued is that residents have to call or I go down and call.”
As a result, Shay said, cars still frequently use the restricted areas of Avenida de Mayo as overflow parking. Shay spoke with a Sheriff’s Office deputy about the parking situation, and said many of the cars the deputy has cited have been repeat offenders.
Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Scott Osborne said one of the problems was the implementation of the parking restriction. The signs were initially confusing, he said. The county responded by installing new signs, and as problems have continued to linger, more signs are being erected. Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Wendy Rose disputed Shay’s claim that officers were ignoring that area of Siesta Key.
“We patrol the whole key,” Rose said.
Still, Shay said, he believes the county isn’t paying close attention to the issue. To seriously discourage parking, he thinks the $25 fines should be raised and the street should be patrolled with greater regularity. Until then, he said, the signs will have no effect on discouraging parking. As the county moves to regulate parking along Shell Road, Shay wondered if similar issues would arise.
“We don’t enforce,” Shay said. “The fact is, it’s not a big issue to anyone else other than the residents on the street.”
On the other side of the issue, a resident at the May 1 Siesta Key Association meeting bemoaned the loss of parking on Avenida de Mayo. She said the street had been one of the few areas not overwhelmed by tourists, and that it was becoming more difficult for residents to visit Siesta Key Village if they didn’t live within walking distance of the businesses.
Shay responded by reiterating that the issue on Avenida de Mayo is one of safety, not one of convenience. County Commissioner Nora Patterson said the issue was larger than just Avenida de Mayo, but that the momentum isn’t in place to tackle bigger parking issues.
“What we need is a couple more parking lots, to be perfectly honest,” Patterson said. “So far, the businesses haven’t been terribly amenable to going into another assessment district to pay for parking.”
When the parking ban was originally proposed in March 2013, a then-employee of the restaurant Eat Here said the Key had a year-round parking shortage, and parking on Avenida de Mayo was necessary to accommodate Siesta Key Village patrons. More than a year later, Eat Here Manager Matt Woodbury said he was unaware that the parking situation had changed along Avenida de Mayo, and that it hadn’t resulted in adverse conditions for the restaurant.
“It hasn’t had any effect on our business,” Woodbury said.
No matter what happens along Avenida de Mayo, Patterson said issues may still arise. She pointed to a complaint she received from a business owner after a customer was issued a parking ticket last month on Canal Road, which Patterson said has had parking restrictions for as long as she can remember.
“With some of this stuff, we have to realize it’s not a perfect world and do the best we can,” Patterson said.
Contact David Conway at [email protected]