INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Parking in the city has been an issue for as long as anyone in city government can remember. Now, an effort is being made to find a solution that will be acceptable to the residents who complain they have no more room on their streets, and visitors who complain there is nowhere to park when they come to the beach.
At a special commission meeting July 23, parking was on top of the list and took the lion’s share of the time.
City Manager Gregg Mims said the issue was as old as the city.
“This city has existed for 65 years,” he said. “Parking has always been a topic at meetings in all those years.”
Mims said in 2014 there were two commission meetings dedicated to solving the parking issue and, because of that, changes were made in rules and regulations. It seems they haven’t done the job.
“In May and June this year, there were 194 parking citations issued,” he said.
At those 2014 meetings, residents complained there was not enough parking for them near the beach and that out-of-towners were taking all the spaces. As a result, Mims said changes were made.
“We set aside three new resident spaces at each beach access,” he said. “Overall, we created 67 new spaces throughout the city.”
Yet the residents’ complaints continued to pour in, not only about beach parking but about parking on their streets. That was after the city instituted one-side only street parking from Fifth Avenue to 27th Avenue.
“We also eliminated vacant lot parking and raised the parking fine from $20 to $40,” said Mims.
The base of the complaints was the quality of life. They included that there was no room on their street for their own needs, to cars blocking driveways and crowding the streets so emergency vehicles, like big fire trucks, could not get through.
To rectify all that, Mims presented two options to the commissioners and the residents who were at the auditorium and online through Zoom.
Option A deals mostly with increasing the parking fine.
“We propose to go from $40 to $80,” said Mims. “After 15 days, if the fine is not paid then it goes up to $95. We couldn’t go much higher because the state only allows a parking fine to be less than $100.”
Option B was considerably more involved.
“We propose to hire a part-time code enforcement officer to work on the weekends,” said Mims. “That officer would join the full-time code enforcement officer and the two deputies on duty to monitor illegal parking.”
Option B also would provide for resident parking stickers that would allow those cars to park on city streets from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that, anyone would be able to park on the streets.
Resident Joe Romano was among several who spoke out in favor of Option B.
“On the weekends, it is impossible to get around,” he said. “I strongly support Option B; it is a good starting spot.”
Former Mayor R.B. Johnson, who during his tenure was a staunch supporter of having free parking for people to come and enjoy the beach, appeared to have a change of heart when he spoke.
“I don’t believe that this town of roughly 4,000 people should be a parking lot for a metropolitan area of 2 million people, but that is what it has become,” he said. “Bear in mind that even after 5 p.m. there are going to be problems. Two weeks ago, as I was out doing some gardening, I noticed many people heading for the beach and when I looked there were cars parked for as far as the eye could see.”
“A few years ago, I would not have advocated this,” he continued.
Among the residents who called into the meeting was a woman who was concerned that condo residents on the beach side of Gulf Boulevard would not have places for guests to park.
Another resident complained of residents abusing the resident-only spots at the accesses.
“They are using them as their own private parking spots, the same vehicles are in those spots week after week,” he said.
Another man complained about the parking lot at the Episcopal Church, which charges for parking during events and on weekends.
“It is a quality-of-life issue with all those cars coming and going,” he said. “I spoke to the pastor about it but he didn’t seem to care.”
Commissioners had plenty to say on the matter.
Ed Hoofnagle in particular had strong feelings about the parking problems in the city.
“We are overrun with out-of-town residents parking on our streets. There are all sorts of problems from their leaving garbage all over the place to drunk people walking on private property,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind if we raised the fine to $99 or whatever the largest legal amount is.”
Commissioner Phil Hanna agreed.
“All of a sudden ‘poof’ we have a problem,” he said. “We didn’t have this problem two years ago. We have a right to have a good quality of life. It won’t take too many large fines or tows for people to get the message.”
Commissioner Diane Flagg added, “Traffic and parking in our city is out of control. There are so many vehicles it is dangerous for walkers and bicyclists. People are at risk, and none of the visitors seem to care about private property.”
Commissioner Joe McCall agreed that the fines should be as high as the law allows. He did say he was concerned about placing too many restrictions on the residents’ parking rights.
“Let us address the people who are breaking our current laws,” he said.
Later, the conversation turned to the definition of a resident, a person who would qualify for a “resident parking decal.” Flagg suggested that anyone with their vehicle registered to an IRB address would qualify. Others were concerned if that would be fair to residents who own a home in IRB but only spend part of the year in the city.
All that will be sorted out in a proposed ordinance that will be crafted by Mims and City Attorney Randy Mora.
Before anything is passed, two public meetings will have to be held. No date was determined for those meetings.
Golf cart ordinance
Mora had in the past expressed concern that the city’s golf cart ordinance was not in line with state-mandated regulations. As a result, the issue of golf carts was also on the agenda for the special meeting.
“Just to be clear, we are not proposing in any way to ban or restrict golf cart use in this city,” said Mora. “We have to clarify several things, including the definition of a golf cart. Just what is a golf cart?”
Mora explained there has often been confusion between a golf cart and a low-speed vehicle.
He said a golf cart is a motorized four-wheel vehicle that can only go to a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. It can only be used on roads with a maximum 30 mph speed limit and operated by anyone 14 or older.
An LSV can go 25 mph on roads with a 35-mph limit. That vehicle must have safety items, such as seat belts, lights, windshield wipers and it must be licensed. It can only be operated by someone 16 or older.
Mora and Mims sought guidance to be able to put together a comprehensive, up-to-date ordinance on golf carts. There was no shortage of suggestions.
Hanna worried about overcrowding on golf carts.
“I’m also worried about short-term rentals using golf carts as an incentive to attract renters,” he said. “We need to educate those owners so they can educate their guests.”
Resident Kelly Cisarek wondered if the city was correct in dealing with golf carts.
“Golf carts have been out of the bottle for years,” she said. “Perhaps we should have permitted LSVs instead of golf carts because of the age of the drivers and overall safety,” she said.
McCall wondered if the golf carts should be registered.
“There is absolutely no purpose in registering golf carts,” said Mims. “There is no need for another layer of bureaucracy from City Hall.”
Hoofnagle said things won’t be perfect even after a new ordinance.
“As long as we have golf carts, we are going to have issues,” he said.
With the discussion over, Mims said Mora would draft an ordinance. Like the one for parking, this one will have to go through two public meetings before it is adopted.