From the start of her term, Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller made it clear she wasn’t out to win friends on the board or the county staff.
You can now add Naples City Council to the list.
Hiller has introduced and vows to research an idea that is sure to be as welcomed by the City Council as an Anthony Weiner photo Tweet — beach parking garages in the city.
Hiller outlined the concept in an e-mail exchange with City Council member Doug Finlay this week.
Finlay wrote to commissioners to urge them to approve a larger restroom facility with a concession stand at Vanderbilt Beach Park. In doing so, Finlay reasoned that the city provides an inordinate amount of beach parking and amenities, considering its population is a fraction of that of the unincorporated county.
The city issued about 6,000 beach parking stickers to its residents as part of the joint parking program between the city and the county, Finlay pointed out. The county, on the other hand, issued 84,000. The county owns and maintains about 1,450 beach parking spaces in eight lots from Marco Island north to the county line. There are just over 1,100 beach parking spaces in the city, many spread along the western ends of the avenues south of Seventh Avenue North.
“These statistics offer several reasons why county residents rely heavily upon the city of Naples and to a lesser degree, the state of Florida to supply adequate and quality beach facilities,” Finlay wrote.
Hiller doesn’t see it that way.
She wrote back, “Your statistics highlight the lack of adequate public parking in the city. That’s certainly an issue that needs addressing. Building parking garages in the city would solve such a problem. I’ll immediately start researching this issue and bring forward offered solutions.”
Naples City Council members, mostly unaware of Hiller’s proposal, spent part of Wednesday morning discussing the city-county beach parking sticker program and the sentiment was clearly not that the city offers a lack of adequate public parking.
Finlay lamented that the city is providing nearly half of all beach parking in the county. Councilwoman Dee Sulick suggested the county should limit the number of beach parking stickers to 6,000, the same number the city issues, and set up its own criteria for determining who gets them.
John Sorey said the city is carrying the load for the county. “Someone has to have the courage to tell the county, ‘We’re no longer going to subsidize your parks and recreation program.”’
But far reacting angrily, Mayor Bill Barnett had a good laugh when told of Hiller’s idea for beach parking garages in the city.
“She’s proposing more parking garages in the city? Yeah, I don’t have to comment on that do I?” Barnett said chuckling. “My comment is no comment.”
Building a parking garage in Naples is a controversial undertaking in any circumstance. Proposing one near the beach, heavily built out with ultra-high end homes, hotels and condominiums is not for the faint of heart.
Hiller says the city doesn’t have enough parking areas that qualify for matching funds from the state’s Beach Management Program. To qualify, an access point must have at least 100 parking spaces and public restrooms. Aside from Lowdermilk Park, the city’s patchwork of access points don’t qualify. “We’re losing significant matching funds from the state because of it,” she wrote in an e-mail, adding, “Adequacy is not determined by the ratio of permit holders to spaces.”
Finlay, who has a penchant for crunching numbers to support his arguments, proved he is not as adept at crunching words when he attempted to summarize Hiller’s proposal. “A good headline might read, ‘Commissioner proposes building beach parking garages in the City of Naples for county residents.’ Too long, huh?”
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten