Lynches Pub & Grub co-owner Chris Lynch makes it a point to warn visitors when she notices they have parked incorrectly outside her St. Armands Circle restaurant.
In recent months, several of her customers have gotten parking tickets, and some have gotten quite upset about it, she said.
“It’s not a good advertisement for the Circle,” Lynch said.
Angela Johnston, owner of Les Ciseaux Hair Salon and Day Spa, said some customers have gotten so angry over a parking ticket that they’ve insisted it’s the salon’s responsibility to pay it.
Last month, St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan told the Longboat Observer that some visitors have become so irate after receiving a parking ticket that they’ve returned merchandise they bought from Circle businesses.
Circle merchants voiced frustrations with the recent spike in parking tickets Tuesday, Aug. 14 to Mayor Suzanne Atwell and Sarasota City Parking Manager Mark Lyons during a St. Armands Circle Association board meeting.
Their complaints stem from a March Sarasota City Commission vote to make parking enforcement uniform in downtown, St. Armands Circle and Hillview’s Southside Village after agreeing to bag downtown parking meters.
As a result, parking staff shifted their approach from a broader focus to one that honed in more closely on areas like the Circle, upping enforcement hours to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week, from the previous 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Since then, many Circle merchants have complained that rules have been applied with little flexibility. They also said that increased enforcement hours leave shoppers with less time to patronize the Circle’s businesses, making it tougher, for example, to enjoy a spa treatment, then shop and dine.
Eric Seace, owner of Planet and president of the Circle Association, said one of the key points merchants stressed during the meeting is that St. Armands is different from other districts in the city, with many tourists who aren’t in the area for a long enough period to modify their parking behaviors — a key goal of enforcement.
“They’re here for a week, they get a ticket, and then they go home,” Seace said.
Lynch said that merchants don’t object to city staff writing tickets when a visitor is clearly over the line.
But many merchants argue that the large parking spots, combined with lines that divide each spot mean that a single vehicle parked incorrectly can result in a domino effect, with customers in many cases mistaking a space that they can fit their car into for an actual spot.
Lyons said that parking staff has some discretion in writing tickets and has recently been issuing more written warnings on the Circle.
But almost always, city staff takes photographs when issuing tickets, and Lyons brought examples with him to Tuesday’s meeting that show instances in which drivers were clearly outside of the designated space.
Lyons said the city is recognizing that each business district within the city also represents a different parking district.
“The City Commission instructed us to create consistency across the board,” he said. “For its time, and for the steps that needed to be taken at that point, it was a good move, but right now we’re working to see if there needs to be modifications.”
“We are going to take very seriously what they say,” Atwell said. “Our parking districts are all very, very different, and it’s hard to be very uniform. Obviously we can’t make any decisions right now, but we heard them loud and clear and need to look at it from a budget and engineering point of view.”
Circle merchants had several suggestions for the city, such as removing the lines that divide spaces, leaving only the line that runs parallel to the sidewalk, reducing enforcement hours and being more flexible.
But Lynch said that for merchants, the issue underscores the need for a parking garage, which they have argued in favor of for years.
Lyons said the city supports the idea and will work with the St. Armands Business Improvement District to study the demand for a garage.
But for now, visitors to the Circle will get a heads up:
In the next few weeks, the city will begin installing signage throughout the Circle warning drivers to park in designated space.