Paying a toll for pushing beach parking meters

When Melbourne Beach Vice Mayor Tom Davis first ran for town commission, he thought he had a winner of a campaign issue calling for parking meters in town. Was he ever wrong.

“I changed that real quickly when residents said no,” Davis said.

Paid parking reared its head again at a March 1 workshop initiated by Commissioner Sherri Quarrie as a way to explore not just the increasing demand for a finite amount of parking but the potential confrontations between residents and visitors for those scarce spaces. The workshop brought to the fore the damned if you do, damned if you don’t nature of parking fees. Meters and permits risk alienating visitors and the dollars they spend, by sending them to Satellite Beach or other communities where parking is free. Or parking fees on beachfront spaces will end up driving beachgoers to residential streets to the chagrin of residents.

“This is an emotional issue,” Mayor Jim Simmons said.

At the heart of the matter is not just visitors who pour into Melbourne Beach to enjoy the town’s quintessential Florida beach town vibe, but the swelling mainland population that flocks to the oceanside.

“There’s more and more problems as Palm Bay and Melbourne grow,” Simmons said. “We are the first town [they come to after crossing the bridge] with free parking.”

Much of the discussion centered on installing a paid parking system in the lot at Ocean Park at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and A1A.

“If we give people a reason not to park in Ocean Park, they will go to Avenue A or Avenue B and the problem is already getting worse on A or B,” said Simmons, who brought up the possibility of residents-only parking on the beach blocks. Then the issue would be which side of the street to park on as the streets are too narrow for parking on both sides. “You can alternate days of the week. People will still bitch that someone is parking in the yard.”

Or worse – as when a fight broke out Feb. 25 between residents and visitors over a vehicle blocking a driveway.

Simmons threw out an option of allowing a certain number of parking slots at the end of each of the two streets that would be open to everybody. “Make the rest permitted parking. That solves the security issue. You won’t have huge 40-50 person parties on the beach,” yet another space taker, he said.

Commissioner Steve Walters said residents do not like paid parking and do not want permits. “If Avenue A and Avenue B residents can park and then non-residents see cars and park there, you have an enforcement issue. It will tie up the police force for parking enforcement,” he said.

Davis said traffic tickets are not worth writing in these situations, and Town Manager Tim Day said the police chief opposes any kind of paid parking.

“We need to be proactive, so it is not an enforcement problem,” Simmons said.

Walters recommended using some of the parking in the shopping center adjacent to Ocean Park. “Maybe we can lease 10 to 12 spaces for beach parking only,” he said.

Day doesn’t hold out much hope for that. “I will look into it, but the owners of the businesses are not so cooperative.”

Commissioner Wyatt Hoover said the various ideas just shuffle the issue from one point to another. “We should have a study for evidence instead of being anecdotal.”

Simmons, who has also heard the anti-parking fee wrath, recommended holding a fact-finding hearing for residents. “I get a lot of emails on parking meters. People would like to see a comprehensive solution. Ask them to help us come up with a solution.”

Quarrie brought up reconfiguring the entrance to the park so there is only a single exit and entrance which would allow an increased number of parking spaces. And it might alleviate the dangerous curve in A1A while not impacting beach views from the park.

“That seems reasonable and you get more space,” Simmons said.

The unanswered question is whether the Florida Department of Transportation would permit parking meters or additional spots in the park. “To reconfigure the lot and the overlook we need DOT approval. It would require design and eventually engineering to apply for a permit that may or may not be successful,” Day said.

The environmental people would also have a say. While the town oversees the park maintenance, the Florida Bureau of Public Lands owns the land and leases it to the municipality for 99 years. The lease is for preserving land for outdoor public recreation.

“Can we craft a response to indicate that we need revenue for repairs in that area? We do have costs,” Day said.

With so much unanswered, gauging the local reaction was deemed premature. “At this point we are not going to hold any public meetings until the commission decides if it wants to move forward with any changes.”

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