HOLMES BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – This time last year, street parking on Holmes Beach was reduced by about 1100 spaces. ‘No parking’ signs went up along residential streets on the busy barrier island.
Before the changes, residents struggled with tourists taking over their properties, turning their streets into parking lots.
“We had no bathroom facilities, no lifeguards, it became a real issue,” said City of Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth. “Picture 2000 cars full of people and no facilities nearby… no one wants to leave their parking spot because someone else is going to grab it. It got to be a real issue and a real concern with our residents,” said the city mayor.
The parking debate had simmered until earlier this year, when a new county commissioner made it clear he wasn’t going to stand for the restricted parking. Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge tells 8 On Your Side he feels the city is restricting beach access to non-island residents.
“Our Manatee County beaches are owned and maintained with Manatee County tax dollars. That means all residents are paying for those beaches, all residents own the beaches, and in my opinion, all residents deserve access to those beaches,” said Commissioner Van Ostenbridge. “You should not have to be wealthy enough to afford a home on Anna Maria Island to be able to go to your beach,” he continued.
The commissioner sent a letter urging city leaders to restore the parking spaces they took away last year. The city, however, hasn’t budged.
The parking battle took a new turn this week when county leaders denied Holmes Beach nearly $300,000 in tourism dollars.
The funding was meant to cover the cost of a new sea wall. Ultimately, freeing up city dollars for bike lanes, side walk improvements and other upgrades.
At least two commissioners, including Van Ostenbridge, said they were denying the request because of the ongoing parking debate.
“Are we going to take county dollars and give it to a city that is not welcoming to the rest of the county’s residents? So their actions ultimately resulted in some consequences yesterday and the direct consequences were that their $300,000 request of county funds was denied,” said Commissioner Van Ostenbridge.
The county commissioner says it’s unfortunate that the issue has come to this point.
“If the mentality out at Holmes Beach with those city officials does not change and they don’t start to open their city up and allow beach access to our county residents, I think this is just the first item that is going to be denied. I think they are looking at potentially further funding losses from county tax dollars as a result of this,” said the commissioner.
Mayor Judy Titsworth admits she was shocked by the county commission’s decision and the reasoning behind it for some of them.
“I consider that a misuse of power. He is a steward to this fund. That is an issue because I thought we were supposed to have some collaboration and try to work together,” said Mayor Titsworth.
She feels it’s unfair for the city to be held hostage over the parking debate.
“It is using the funding source as a weapon and that is not what that funding source is for and that is tragic,” said the mayor.
The funding shut down came as a surprise for the mayor since she and Van Ostenbridge had met earlier in the week to discuss the issue.
“We found some common ground we could work on. I gave them my word that I am here for you… and that we will take those steps and work with you,” said Titsworth.
Both parties are hopeful with some collaboration and give and take, they’ll be able to find some common ground.
“I met with the mayor and I am scheduling meetings with all of the city commissioners in the coming week or two and I am hoping that we can sit down pretty quickly one-on-one and we can start to iron this out and we can address their issues while, at the same time, allowing residents to have access to the beach,” said Van Ostenbridge.