INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — City commissioners have nixed a plan for controlled parking in neighborhoods east of Gulf Boulevard where beachgoers and other visitors leave their cars in the daytime — at least for now.
After listening to residents supporting no-parking areas and those who don’t, Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy, Vice Mayor Phil Hanna, and Commissioner Jim McCall voted to kill changes to an ordinance that also would have required residents to obtain parking permits in their neighborhoods.
The reason: they want to wait until there is more clarity of where and when over-parking occurs.
Though beach parking has always been limited, the advent of COVID-19 has drawn even more out-of-town visitors — with more spare time and a desire to hit the beach — to park on residential streets, Commissioner Diane Flagg said. That has led to blocked driveways and sidewalks, inaccessible mailboxes, and not least, hampered first-responder access to homes. It has also made it difficult for recycling trucks and other service vehicles and made trash collection difficult. Though the city has used no-parking signs and residential decals in other areas with some success, it wants to tighten control.
“There are 67 resident parking spaces in town, 61 of which are beach access,” City Manager Gregg Mims told the commission at its Nov. 10 meeting. “Over the years, we’ve issued 2,500 parking decals; you can do the math.”
After seeking community feedback, holding workshops, and studying parking data over the past months, the commission asked City Attorney Randy Mora to write an ordinance to designate the streets north of Fifth Avenue, east of Gulf Boulevard and south of 28th Avenue as “parking by permit only.” Under the proposed rule, only vehicles with residential parking permits would be allowed to park in that zone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Violators would be issued a parking citation and fine — or towed, if necessary. The permits would be non-transferable.
Under the proposed ordinance, residents seeking parking decals for those streets must prove property ownership in the zone via a tax parcel ID from the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office. Not only that, but each vehicle with a decal must be registered to the property; each family member living at the residence can receive a parking permit.
Contractors with business signs or logos on their vehicles that are actively performing work, providing services, or doing home repairs can park in the permit-only zones.
Not all residents agree that parking is a problem on their streets, but many made their feelings known through phone calls, letters, and emails to Kennedy and fellow commissioners, as well as during public comment at commission meetings on July 23 and Nov. 10. At least 150 residents have signed a petition since August asking the commission to “keep the streets open to only one side street parking from First Avenue to 28th Avenue throughout every road in IRB.”
Some residents worry requiring residential parking decals and other permits will make it difficult for family and friends to visit. They believe a one-size-fits-all policy wouldn’t be fair or effective. Others indicated they don’t want parking restrictions where parking isn’t a problem.
John Pfanstiehl, who lives on Harbor Drive, opposes parking restrictions in the neighborhood that winds into the Intracoastal Waterway. He told city commissioners at the Nov. 10 hearing, “All the residents on Harbor Drive North and Harbor Drive South that I’ve spoken to … are against the ban.” He said that much of Harbor Drive does not have a beach parking problem and residents “don’t want their rights taken away needlessly.”
Some residents participated in the Nov. 10 public comment via Zoom.
Heather McCarty was one such resident. She urged commissioners to table the ordinance.
“With regard to parking, we are not Belleair, we don’t want to be Belleair … we have no problems with street parking. The vast majority of visitors are respectful. Let this be tabled until next year,” she said.
Maria Heshmati lives on La Hacienda Drive. She told commissioners that parked cars in her neighborhood “are already taking over and … blocking our mailboxes and disturbing our peace and safety.” She supports “parking with permits for residents in our residential areas.”
Lee Wilkerson told commissioners via Zoom that one’s view on parking depends on where one lives.
“If you live around Eighth Avenue and First Street and east Gulf Boulevard, there’s no way you’re not for this ordinance,” he said via Zoom. “If you live on Harbor Drive South and you don’t drive down Gulf Boulevard on weekends you may not realize what a problem it is. We need to go with the resident decal ordinance. No one likes every inch loaded up with automobiles, like Manhattan.”
Other residents requested the commission table the proposed ordinance until a later date.
Kennedy, seeking middle ground, said an ordinance governing parking should not be overbroad.
“I would suggest in a specific time period — maybe six months or nine months — whatever appropriate, we do a review of enforcement,” she said. “During that review if we had further issues, we could move in a new direction.”
Hanna also hinted a new parking ordinance might be premature. “Does anybody feel we might want to do a little more of a comprehensive study of certain areas of where the signs might be … before we actually adopt this thing?”
A “yes” vote was a vote to kill the parking plan; a “no” vote would keep the proposal alive. In the end the commission voted 3-2 to deny, or kill the proposed ordinance.
Hoofnagle and Flagg voted to pursue an ordinance. “I was hoping we could work on this ordinance and release some of the problems that a lot of the residents are having with parking,” Flagg said before voting no. “We’ve gone through the throes every year hearing about complaints.”
The commission also opted to postpone a discussion and possible vote on an ordinance that would raise parking fines on the beach side of Gulf Boulevard, restrict hours of parking at beach accesses, tighten who can get resident parking permit decals, and make other changes.
The ordinance would raise parking fines from $40 to $75 within the city and strike the 15-day rule for unpaid $40 tickets becoming $55. Another change raises the fine for illegally parked trailers or vehicles with trailers near the 15th Street boat ramp from $25 to $75.
The ordinance would also take the city manager out of the business of issuing temporary guest parking permits to motels, motor lodges, businesses, or residences on the condition that business tax receipts, if applicable, are paid.
Hoofnagle said he wanted more time to understand the ordinance changes.
"I would move that we would discuss this at the next meeting,” Hoofnagle said. “I haven’t had a chance to see it, so I’m not comfortable being asked to make a decision.”
‘Leave No Trace’ passes
The commission voted unanimously to approve a “Leave No Trace” rule that prohibits the leaving of personal property on the city’s beaches, such as beach chairs, coolers, toys and tents. The idea is to protect public entrance, exiting and use of the beach, and to protect the environment and wildlife. According to Mims, broken chairs, bent umbrellas and even property in good condition must be picked up by someone, usually city employees, sheriff’s deputies and others. The new rule allows the city to impound property found on the beach for up to 90 days.
Shark fishing, low-speed vehicle rules pass second reading
The commission approved, on second reading, the ending of a ban on shark fishing and spear fishing within 1,000 feet of the beach. It also approved new rules allowing properly licensed and outfitted low-speed vehicles to drive on Gulf Boulevard. The rule also allows golf carts to be driven in the daytime under certain conditions and prohibits them from Gulf Boulevard.
Because of the Thanksgiving break, the next city commission meeting is Dec. 8. The commission may take up the parking and permit issues then.