VIDEO/PHOTOS: Lee County agrees to study Bonita beach parking sticker issue

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Beware, beachgoers: Lee County might cancel a ...

— The Bonita Springs beach parking pass hasn’t gotten the ax just yet.

Lee County commissioners agreed on Tuesday to study its agreement with the city that allows Bonita residents to buy annual passes for $10 instead of feeding a meter at $2 an hour.

Other possibilities will be reviewed and presented in two weeks, but Commissioners voted 4-0, with chairwoman Tammy Hall absent, to give Bonita Springs a 30-day notice to cancel the agreement.

“The elimination of this program is really about creating equity and parity,” said Barbara Manzo, parks and recreation director.

If the agreement is terminated, the Bonita parking pass will be good for the remaining weeks in 2010. Also the $60 Lee County beach pass would no longer be valid at the Bonita Beach Regional Park and Little Hickory Island Beach Park, Manzo said.

“I think you know, in these times, we’re trying to come up with all the possible ways we can to help with the operation of our department,” Manzo said.

The parking passes don’t bring in the cash the way meters do.

Fort Myers Beach’s Lynn Hall Memorial Park, with 104 spaces, brought in $655,000 last year. Bonita’s beach parking, with 114 spots, brought in $276,000.

For Councilwoman Martha Simons, comparing the two beaches is like comparing apples to oranges.

“Bonita Springs is different,” Simons said. “Fort Myers Beach is a lot more tourism.”

Bonita Beach has one restaurant where Fort Myers Beach has dozens of restaurants, tourist shops, bars and a fishing pier. And Bonita Springs has about 60,000 residents in season while Fort Myers Beach has about 7,000.

Bonita beach parking is split into two lots. Manzo and Simons discussed allowing passes at the smaller lot with about 30 spaces.

“We’ve got to work something out,” Simons said.

Fred Forbes, representing residents of East Bonita, suggested a tiered program for residents and tourists. A $2 per hour fee is too expensive for many people, he said.

“There’s a lot of people in Lee County living on fixed incomes,” Forbes said.

Manzo maintained the issue wasn’t only about money, but fairness. The city of Fort Myers Beach has never had a pass for the Lynn Hall parking lot. If that community starts to pressure the commission for their own pass, she’d be “dead.”

Manzo also said that the parking meters encourage turnover. She based this on the amount of revenue collected from the meters, although she acknowledged she did not know if that money was a result of turnover or people who remain all day by feeding the meter.

Questions like this left Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson scratching his head.

“If you’re going to have a business, and their business is providing parking spaces, shouldn’t you know who your customers are, when they are using the spaces, at what times of day, for how long are they staying ...” Nelson said. “You’re saying this has to be done and why. Show me. What’s the data?”

The city has two weeks to devise a plan that could persuade the county to keep some sort of agreement in place.

The county just re-upped the agreement that has been in place since October 2004. But Manzo said she only recently realized how much money the county was losing.

For a department that has seen its budget cut by $5 million in the past few years, $200,000 in parking meter fees is an inescapable benefit to ending the agreement with Bonita Springs, said Commissioner Ray Judah.

“We certainly need to make some adjustments,” he said.

Commissioner John Manning said there seems to be a disconnect between the city and county. He said a two-week review would allow the two governments to get on the same page.

Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

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