by: Max Royle ~ City of St. Augustine Beach

Time for a second essay about the responses to the recent resident survey. It had several questions concerning paid parking. The one I’ll concentrate on here is “What solution(s) do you have to solve/alleviate the parking issues in the City?”

There were 540 responses to the question. Among the written comments were these: “I wish I had one.” “Parking is not an issue. Visitors have no right to a parking spot.” “None. We will always have parking problems and they will increase as long as we encourage tourism.” “Stop building.” “Daily grooming of the beaches to allow more cars to park on the beach (for example, at A Street).”

And there was this frequent comment: The city should buy land for parking.

What’s the process for the city buying land and constructing a parking lot?

First, finding a site large enough.

Second, the owner willing to sell the land for its appraised value, which could be lower than the price the owner wants and will accept.

Third, the city having money to buy the land outright, or approval from the voters to tax them over many years to pay the debt for the purchase. Fourth, the city having money to pay for engineering, fill dirt, asphalt, etc. to construct the parking lot.

There are only two vacant parcels of significant size left in the city: one north and one south of the Marriott Hotel. For the northside property, the owner already has a development plan; for the southside property he is willing to lease but not sell the land. What then are the City’s options?

Make an offer the owner can’t refuse? Take the land by eminent domain and pay the owner the appraised value? Both solutions are possible only if the city has the money. It doesn’t.

The city already has significant debt for two past land purchases: 1. three lots on the north side of 10th Street for parking and restrooms; and 2. 16 acres between the Bermuda Run and Sea Colony subdivisions for conservation/parkland and parking.

What about money from grants or the bed tax? Grants usually require a 50% match. Even if a grant were available to purchase land worth several million dollars for parking, the city doesn’t have the money for the match.

Same is true for the bed tax, which is controlled by the County.

What about a public/private partnership? This might be worth exploring if the owner would first agree in writing to sell the property for its appraised value.

From the survey, the most sensible comment may be this: “There is no way to create more parking without purchasing land, which is not a good idea for taxpayers. A shuttle [bus] system may help but at some point we are just FULL. Have the police patrol and ticket/tow unlawful parking. If there is not an empty parking space at the shopping mall, we go back another day. Same case for the beach. We do not have to accommodate everyone.”