CLEARWATER — If City Councilman Hoyt Hamilton’s prediction is correct, residents of Clearwater Beach’s north end will end up sharing their free street parking with workers from the nearby tourist district.
And if that happens, the city could start receiving complaints about increased traffic and noise in the Mandalay subdivision, he said.
In February, the city council approved staff’s recommendation to convert 220 free parking spots to metered parking in the resort town, including in the south section of Mandalay subdivision. That area stretches north from Rockaway Street to Acacia Street and west from the Mandalay Channel to the Gulf of Mexico.
Many of the free street spaces now are used by workers at nearby restaurants, hotels and retail shops, and by beach residents.
At a city council work session last week, Hamilton suggested that workers will drive even farther north into the Mandalay subdivision, north of Acacia Street, to find parking along the side streets to avoid paying for parking.
“If you put meters on those spaces (in south Mandalay), they are going to be parking north of Acacia Street and on other residential streets,” he told fellow council members. “We are going to have residents complaining” about the increase in noise and traffic.
Hamilton said his late father, Howard, who bought the Palm Pavilion in 1964, often commented that “Clearwater is punch drunk on parking revenues.”
“If we are going to say every public space on the beach needs to have a meter on it, then maybe our approach needs to be citywide,” he said. “At some point, we will reach a tipping point and people will say, ‘I’m going to Honeymoon Island or someplace else.’”
Hamilton also suggested that before meters are installed and parking fees are raised, staff should survey the parking strategies of nearby communities for insight.
“I look at downtown Dunedin with not an empty storefront, and foot traffic … people down there morning, noon and night. You don’t see a parking meter within a half-mile.”
Fellow Clearwater council members did not support Hamilton’s idea to conduct a survey of parking strategies of nearby communities.
Mayor George Cretekos said parking revenues are needed to build and maintain parking garages, fund the beach lifeguard program and pay for the Jolley Trolley service.
As part of a two-year study, city staff gathered feedback from islanders including business owners, organizations and residents about the proposed parking changes including converting 220 street parking spots from free to pay, increasing rates and hours of meter enforcement, and reducing hourly limits. The study noted that there’s no evidence that all free parking in the Mandalay subdivision is used by employees of nearby businesses.
New parking rates and time limits went into effect May 1.
City Manager Bill Horne said he’s satisfied with the approach taken by his staff.
“While we don’t always compare ourselves to other communities,” he said, “we know we have unique challenges on the beach. Free parking was never part of the definition of creating a better parking system.”