Indian Rocks Beach parking garage talk stirs residents

The Indian Rocks Beach City Commission will meet Tuesday, March 8, at City Hall to discuss the idea of public parking and the pros and cons of a parking garage in the Narrows business district, according to City Manager Gregg Mims.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — “Where can we park on the beach?”

It’s a question as ubiquitous as sugar sand and grouper sandwiches, and old enough to qualify for AARP in most Gulf Coast communities. Debates on where to park and discussions about potential solutions have echoed from Dunedin to Clearwater to Indian Rocks Beach and points south for decades.

“This city has existed for 65 years,” City Manager Gregg Mims said during a July 2020 commission meeting, adding, “and parking has always been a topic at meetings in all those years.”

But since the pandemic reportedly has prompted a massive migration to the Sunshine State, adding more people and vehicles to already densely populated Pinellas County, parking and traffic woes have taken center stage in many beach communities. In Indian Rocks Beach, a letter announcing a public discussion on potentially building a parking garage in the “Narrows” business district touched off a firestorm on social media. It could lead to a lively, and lengthy, City Commission meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8.

“The City of Indian Rocks Beach City Commission, at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, will discuss the idea of public parking and the pros and cons of a parking garage in the Narrows business district,” read the letter signed by Mims that went out to affected parties on Feb 17. 

Soon after receiving the letter, concerned citizens and visitors flooded Facebook and other social media sites to debate the subject. Many commentors ripped into the Loder family, owners of the Original Crabby Bills, for floating the idea of building a garage to help boost their burgeoning, family-owned business. Others called out city leaders for facilitating yet another discussion about parking.

“On the topic of a parking garage on IRB I would like to start by saying ABSOLUTELY NOT,” Jackson Tenney, a moderator on the popular Indian Rocks Beach Life Facebook page, wrote in a Feb. 17 post. 

“We don’t need a parking garage just like we don’t need more town homes. …Wake up everyone. This is a shameful idea for our town. Our town leaders are failing us.”

Commentor Jennifer Nolan countered by calling criticism of city leaders “harsh,” adding, “I wouldn’t say our ‘Town leaders are failing us’ when it hasn’t even been voted on yet. … If you’re so passionate go to the commission meeting and make your voice heard. That is the point of democracy.”

For their part, the Loders issued a statement to employees that pointed to a pair of independent studies that found a parking solution was needed in Indian Rocks Beach before noting the upcoming meeting would serve as “a preliminary discussion on the topic.”

The letter also stated that “claims of back door deals, corruption or lack of concern for the community is just plain wrong.” It concluded by stating the Loder family, which has been a part of the IRB dining scene for more than 30 years, “doesn’t have all the answers, but we are part of the discussion,” and they believe “a hard choice needs to be made to fix a problem.” 

Indeed, Mims said the purpose of the March 8 agenda item is to provide a public forum for the city’s latest attempt to find a solution to the longstanding parking problem, nothing more.

“This is a public meeting to discuss the subject of possibly building a parking garage in the Narrows business district,” Mims said over the weekend, noting, “there will be no vote taken by the commission and no final decision made that night.”

Based on the intensity of the online debate, which includes dozens of posts featuring hundreds of comments as well as calls for private meet-ups to unite concerned citizens in advance of the meeting, the town intends to turn out for the latest discussion of a topic that’s obviously not going away any time soon.

“I understand there’s been a lot of talk about the idea of a parking garage in IRB on our page,” Chad Piece, an administrator of the Indian Rocks Beach Life page, wrote in a Feb. 25 post. “If you live in the area, please show up at the meeting on 3/8 @ Town Hall as it is open to anyone who wants to speak, resident or not.”

Indian Rocks Beach City Hall is located at 1507 Bay Palm Blvd. adjacent to Kolb Park.