By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- To charge for beachside parking or not to charge is the question facing the Parking Systems Task Force. Parking meters and kiosk paid parking lots along the beachfront may be one piece of a new city system to alleviate parking issues along Flagler Avenue and other congested areas on the beach.
"This is another way to try to get the businesses along Flagler to have their employees not park on Flagler in front of their buildings," said task force member Adele Aeftin-Hudson. There is no city ordinance against employees parking in the public parking spots, but the task force has the option of recommending such legislation.
Several ideas are under consideration by the task force, such as limiting on-street parking to two hours, installing parking meters, creating some one-way side streets to improve the flow of traffic on Flagler, purchasing additional land and building more parking lots, charging for parking in the existing lots or limiting their time, no overnight parking on Flagler and residential parking stickers.
Wade Mahood, task force member, said emphatically there are two things that need to be in place before any plan can be implemented.
"Enforcement -- if we don't have that in place we can't do any of the items we want," Mr. Mahood said.
Members agreed with City Manager Pam Brangaccio this would not be a job for the police force. "We need to make sure there are no negative reactions against the police or city. People who receive citations need to realize it is their own fault for parking there," Mr. Mahood said. He also suggested that enforcement areas would have to extend down several side streets and Florida Avenue.
Mr. Mahood's second condition is that funding would need to be established to pay for the enforcement. "We need to set up an account for deposit of these fees and must stipulate exactly what the money is used for. We need to make sure it is not used as a piggy back for other funds or used for other things."
Ms. Brangaccio told the task force all of it needs to be part of the recommendation to the city. Members agreed the money should go for enforcement, equipment and maintenance of those parking areas.
Tony Otte, CRA Director, gave a report on several parking spaces that are leased by the city to businesses for public parking. They are in the Coronado Community United Methodist Church lot (65 spaces); Flagler Dunes (20 spaces), Jessamine (25 spaces) and Flagler Ave. Collections of fees on these leased spaces were executed in Sept 2010 and suspended in Feb 2011 to stimulate business growth.
The Parking Task Force is recommending the city begin collecting these fees again as part of the new parking system when it goes into effect. "There is no actual cash payment -- the lease payments are deducted from the grant amount each year, according to Mr. Otte. For an immediate action, the task force asked the city to send out letters to the businesses reminding them of the parking spaces and to ask employees to use those spaces rather than parking in front of the businesses on Flagler.
Ms. Brangaccio told members there is a lead-time to get through the whole process once they have recommended a total parking system plan to the city before it can be implemented. "We have to do a survey and the attorneys have to do their research. You are looking at six months in terms of process to get through the city." When asked what they could do immediately, Ms. Brangaccio said signs could go up for this summer if they want to have two hour parking on Flagler. "That's already in the code and parking meters would be a simple code amendment."
The task force also discussed residential parking only areas, trolley services to carry people from parking lots farther away, a parking garage or building more parking lots and is having the police conduct a traffic flow study to see if one-way streets would alleviate any of the congestion.
"If we have the shuttles in place, we may be able to locate a parking garage on another site on land the city already owns," suggested Ms. Aeftin-Hudson, "though I'd hate to see a parking garage on the AOB site."
Paul Mayer, Economic Development Advisory Board member, pointed out the Florida Wildlife Commission would have some say on that site, which is land owned by the city along North Causeway.
With only two regular meetings left on its schedule, time is running out for the task force to come up with a plan. The next meeting will be a joint one with the Planning and Zoning Board on March 14, following with a regular meeting on March 21. Members liked Ms. Brangaccio's suggestion for a joint meeting with the CRA on April 9.
"You have got to think of it as a parking system" Ms. Brangaccio said, "it all has to work together." She cited New Smyrna Beach's new standing as one of the top 10 beaches and "the interest in New Smyrna is very high right now." She said residents should expect to see the area around Barracudas redeveloped in the next three to five years and the parking system that is developed now is going to have long-term effect on the area. "You are doing a great job and I have every confidence you will come up with a solution," she said.