Parking in Paradise: Solutions discussed by Marco Island City Council

Andrea Stetson

Parking can be a problem in paradise. It’s a problem that the Marco Island City Council is trying to tackle. This week they voted to target the remaining funds to add better parking at Muspa Way.

Justin Martin, Marco Island director of public works, told the council that there is not enough money for all the projects on their list. He compiled a report of parking priorities and solutions for the island that put improvements to Bald Eagle Drive, Herb Savage Way, Muspa Way, Wells Sawyer Way, Durnford Way and Bayside Court as priorities.

Justin Martin, director of public works, told the council that there is not enough money for all the projects on their list. He compiled a report of parking priorities and solutions for the island that put improvements to Bald Eagle Drive, Herb Savage Way, Muspa Way, Wells Sawyer Way, Durnford Way and Bayside Court as priorities. He also pinpointed Veterans Community Park and Mackle Park as having insufficient parking for large events.

The city has $1.2 million right now to spend on improvements. That’s not enough for all the work on the city’s wish list.

“The recommendation is to reallocate the one cent surtax funds that were earmarked for Herb Savage Way and Wells Sawyer, to fund Muspa Way improvements,” Martin told the council. “It would consolidate the funds to pay for one of the projects, since there is not enough funding for all the projects.”

“Is Muspa Way the best bang for the buck?” questioned councilman Jared Grifoni.

“That is the longest one and it has the most potential to provide the most parking close to the beaches,” Martin responded.

Council members voted to move on with that recommendation. But it wasn’t the end of the parking concerns. During public comment several residents complained about parking near the Sussex on the Bay condominiums. They say vehicles parking in the swales are blocking the view of residents trying to get in and out of their community.

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“We are now getting complaints from residents and guests about safety entering and exiting the driveway,” said Bill Richel. “The vehicles are parked right at the edge of our driveway. It is set up as a tunnel going out, and in order to exit we must pull out into the street in order to see any cars coming because it is blocked with all the cars parked here. The driver can’t look past those cars. Those turning into our parking lot also have their vision diminished.”

This aerial shows Muspa Way which runs behind the shops but close enough to the beach for parking. This is the area that Marco Island wants to use its parking improvements money.

“This is a disaster about to happen,” added Larry Simon. “We want them to consider no parking on the swales and installing a traffic light.”

Council voted to put temporary no parking signs by the swales close to the condo entrance and exit.

Residents complained about the severe parking issues by Durnford Way. Council members say that should soon be resolved. The alley behind Joey’s is being renovated and once that opens, there will be more parking and better traffic flow.

“It’s progressing,” Martin said about the project.” We had some delays with delivery of materials. It is on track to finish up in the next month or two.”

Council members also looked for new solutions to alleviate parking. During large events at Mackle Park and Veteran’s Community Park, people park all over the swales in all directions. Council members suggesting paving some of the swale areas with impervious material to create safer parking.

Council  members say Olde Marco has the most parking concerns. Council chairman, Greg Foley, says much of the rapid growth there occurred before Marco became a city, leaving them with the task of fixing the parking problems.

Still on the wish list is to find funding to provide on-street parking with marked spaces on Swallow Avenue and Seagrape Drive near the South Beach Access. The city would also like to acquire land for future development of off-street parking by the North Beach Access. The report states that capital costs for these improvements could be offset by parking fees or meters.

City manager, Mike McNees likes that idea.

“A parking space has to generate revenue,” he said at the meeting. “The days of parking meters and collecting quarters are long gone, and there are technologies today to simplify the parking needs. Those parking spaces can generate revenue. I know people don’t like the idea of paid parking, but maybe we want to evaluate if it is feasible as we spend money to improve these areas. We do not have the revenue sources.”

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Council chairman, Greg Folley agrees.

“There is an enormous demand for parking, so why don’t we do some charging for use? he questioned. “That is something we have to look at. We have a lot to maintain, and perhaps we need some additional funds for parking. If we can make some additional funds that might be a big success.”

But councilwoman Becky Irwin doesn’t like the idea.

“I was a young mom who used free things a lot when the kids were growing up,” Irwin began. “To pay to park to go to the beach and go shopping, it limits access. Any time you want to feed the city money they will take it, and it is non-reversible. You will never wean them off of it. It will be part of the budget forever, and they will keep raising it. So, I don’t like that. I know the city would love it because it would add a windfall to their coffers, but it would only get more expensive.”

There are currently parking fees at the county owned beach parks on Marco Island, but parking on the streets by the beaches has always been free.

Irwin presented an out-of-the-box idea to alleviate parking. She said that during the summer the condos along the beach are practically empty and she encourages condo associations to use their empty lots for paid beach parking.

“If it is $10 a day for 40 spaces, that is $400 dollars a day,” she added. “For 100 days, that is $40,000. I am totally for the people who own these condos to be able to raise the money if they want to. There are certain ones that can make a fortune. I just know there is empty space, and there is money to be made, and if I had a giant space, I would be looking at it as a way to make money to upgrade my landscaping or my roof. All these condos are sitting on gold mines.”

But condo parking won’t generate spots in Olde Marco, which some council members pinpoint as one of the biggest problem areas.

“I think we have a lot of problems in Olde Marco,” Folley explained. “I think we have 17 restaurants that don’t have adequate parking, and that goes back to before the incorporation of the city. A lot of these places don’t have enough parking and we have to get a handle on it. The most intense problem is Old Marco.”

Irwin, however, doesn’t think Marco Island has a parking problem.

“I have been to Olde Marco a zillion times and I have never had a problem parking,” she stressed. “People are always coming in and out. All those parking lots are fluid. If you drive around for five minutes, you will get a spot. I have lived here 10 years and every time I go down there, I get a spot. I wait for a minute, and I get a spot.”

Irwin also called for more public transportation and carpooling.

“I get that we all want to go to all these great places, but we need more mopeds, more bikes, more Uber-ing,” she said, “Everybody doesn’t need to drive their own car. If you are going to dinner, drive together. We all know we don’t live in Golden Gate Estates. We don’t have that much space. We have to adapt to the space that we have. If you want to go there, make it happen. I know everybody loves to say it’s really bad. I like to think of it as it is not a parking problem, it is a success story. I hate the term parking problem. I want the businesses to succeed. I want people to get to the beach. We have what people want. We really should be thinking of ways to get people to what they want more easily.”