By AARIN HARTWELL
Special to the PRESS
Discussion of the city’s convention center renovation and expansion and proposed seasonal parking permit brought many spectators to the audience of the meeting.
Business owners and members of the community waited patiently as the mayor and council attended to each item on the schedule with the majority of the onlookers anticipating agenda item 12, the discussion and action regarding the city’s proposed beach user fee (paid parking) and guidance to amend Chapter 22, Dune Protection, Beach Re-nourishment, and Access Plan to include the proposed beach user fee.
According to an interview with Council member Sam Listi, city manager Joni Clarke, and Coastal Resources Manager Reuben Torres, Listi said, “The city is considering paid parking because both county parks have paid parking. This causes guests to bypass the county parks causing overflow parking on Gulf Boulevard.”
Kerry Schwartz, owner of Island Native Surf Shop and President of The South Padre Island Business Owners Association (SPI BOA) spoke Wednesday to the council about the Business’ Owners opinion of the beach user fee (paid parking).
“SPI Business Owners Association is very committed to providing SPI visitors a very friendly, enjoyable, relaxing experience while visiting SPI. Tourism is the only industry on SPI and it is tourism that fuels our economy. It is important for the Island to embrace tourists and provide a very welcoming experience. Anything less it not acceptable,” said Schwartz.
The local BOA’s position against the parking proposal presented to the City Council was believed not to be consistent with what they deemed “promoting tourism.”
Schwartz requested that the Council allow the Business Owners Association to be involved in creating solutions for the parking problem. The issue was tabled pending a meeting with the Business Owners Association.
SPI BOA plans to work with the Property Owners Who Care, Surfrider Foundation and the city to come up with a viable solution.
However, this is no new issue for the City of South Padre. The City Council has sought solutions for the parking problem, such as parking meters and ticket kiosks, for the last four years. After ruling out the options for logistical reasons, the GLO granted permission to charge a beach user fee, pending the details as to the rate and method of implantation. The council proposed its first beach user-parking fee to the GLO in February.
After being denied by the GLO for the plans’ high rates resulting in potential discrimination to the day-trippers, the city discussed new options for rates and general logistics of the parking permit at Wednesday’s meeting.
“The funds collected from the proposed plan will be used for beach walkovers, beach maintenance and improvements for Gulf Boulevard,” said Listi.
Under the Texas Open Beaches Act, it is required that all fees associated with access to the beach are re-invested into maintaining the beach.
“The City Council is looking at all the options and how to best implement the program because our situation is unique being a coastal community, and we have to take into consideration safety issues as well,” said city manager Joni Clarke.
Council member Listi suggested multiple passes can be used.
“If a solution can be reached its going to have to be a daily, three-day or yearly pass, or a combination of those somehow,” said Listi.
According to Councilman Listi, others prefer a flat fee.
Clarke said the Council has already restricted overnight cul-de-sac parking and parking on residential side streets so to ensure safety vehicles have access.
Community member Nikki Charvat, disagreed with the restriction and is concerned that paid parking will worsen the problem.
“I own a condo that was built before contractors were required by a building code to have a parking space for each unit. Before side street parking was restricted, I was able to park pretty close to my home. It’s frustrating that I have to park and walk five blocks to get to my home when I live across the street from both a parking lot and cul-de-sac that remains empty after 9 p.m.,” said Charvat.
Charvat also is concerned about the current building codes.
“They already don’t have enough parking in the town, but are still allowing new buildings to come up without legitimate parking spaces for them. They are not using the standard parking and building codes,” said Charvat.
Charvat suggests that current homeowners be grandfathered in to any new proposition that prohibits property owners from parking in these restricted areas.
Community member Mary Volz asked the Council, “What happens if you sell parking passes and there is no place for the people to park that have passes? Will they get a refund?”
The City has been actively searching for solutions to the parking issue.
According to Torres, there are three to four beach cul-de-sacs that could be improved by development, potentially resulting in 120 spaces if funding was available.
“The problem is we don’t have the funding to commit to this development now. We would first need to implement the paid parking to accrue money for this process,” said Torres.
The Texas Open Beaches Act requires one space per 15 linear feet, which translates to South Padre as 1,620 parking spaces. According to the Beach Parking System Draft sent to the GLO, South Padre has recorded 2,186 parking spaces available for beach goers, which is 34 percent more than what is required by the Open Beaches Act.
“The way we see it approximately 25 percent of the total identified parking spaces would have a beach user fee, leaving 75 percent of parking on the island free,” said Torres.
South Padre is one of the very few beach communities in Texas without a beach user fee. Galveston, Corpus Christi, Surfside, Nueces County and Port Aransas participate in beach user fee parking programs, according to Torres
“Three of the other cities’ beach programs share annual pass programs, which is what we are proposing,” said Torres.
Beginning June 1, the City’s free public transportation bus, The Wave, will begin a designated beach route that will circle remote identified parking lots to enable visitors to different beach accesses. Visitors would be expected to use this transportation to the beach.
Marcy Newman, Public Works Director for South Padre is currently in Florida attending the International Parking Institute Conference.