Are parking woes the start of an existential crisis for Holmes Beach?
Image via Manatee County.

Holmes beach
Officials in the city, county and state wrestle over who can access a public beach.

The population on Holmes Beach is going down. So has parking available for anyone not living in the community.

Tensions between the barrier island community and Manatee County, meanwhile, only escalated in recent years. Meetings with state lawmakers sought out cooperative solutions that were quickly abandoned, creating further distrust.

Many leaders say the visible anger over parking spaces merely hints at the growing isolationist attitudes about island life, despite the presence of public amenities supported by all taxpayers in Manatee County.

“It’s been increasingly hard for non-island residents to find parking and enjoy amenities, shops, restaurants and beaches,” said Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

Mayor Judy Titsworth disputes much of that, and feels the island has come under increasing attacks from other elected officials. She said the challenge for her city is that as tourism has grown in recent years, it created additional burdens on city residents.

Regarding parking, she said the city used to allow roadside parking quite a distance from its beaches, but a rise in traffic increasingly took over neighborhood streets. The limits on using those spaces sparked criticisms of the government, but from the outside and not city voters.

“We have heard accusations that we have eliminated 1000s of parking places in our city when in fact Manatee County did their own study and it was 400,” she said. These were removed from neighborhoods. The city can currently accommodate 12,000 visitors on any given day with parking for day beach users and occupancy in hotels and vacation rentals.”

The greatest point of dispute surrounds the publicly owned Manatee Public Beach and whether the public has enough access.

Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said he’s upset that traffic has grown increasingly paralyzing for the island. He thinks the elimination of parking spaces on the island sought to discourage driving to the island, but the reality is it has only worsened the situation as drivers circle through city streets seeking a place to park.

The greatest dispute with city government came after an April meeting organized with Boyd, state Rep. Will Robinson, Titsworth and county officials.

Manatee County officials believe a parking garage would restore the ability for more people to park near the beach and discourage individuals from driving neighborhood streets.

Van Ostenbridge said he left the meeting with the belief Titsworth supported a parking structure.

“All of the stakeholders left the meeting with that impression after a promise from the mayor that she would help the county commission sell the concept of a parking garage at the public beach to the Holmes Beach Commission at a later date,” he said.

Instead, the Commission weeks later voted for an ordinance prohibiting multi-level parking facilities.

Boyd was upset by that development.

“She embraced the idea of parking garage and committed to us to see where the city could loosen what, in our view, was making it harder and harder to find parking except for residents,” Boyd said. “Candidly, I don’t believe that was done.”

Titsworth said much of the conversation around this has been mischaracterized. The city has never allowed larger parking garages. Moreover, in the mayor-commission form of government, she had no vote on the commission to set policy.

Certainly, there were citizens on the islands who wanted to stop a parking garage proposal.

“The Holmes Beach Commission did the appropriate thing by passing an ordinance their voting base strongly advocated for, repeatedly,” wrote Laurel Nevans, founder of Save AMI Cities, an advocacy group defending local rule on the barrier island, in an email to Boyrd. “Now you are blaming the Mayor for something she had no power to stop? And angry that our elected officials did their job effectively by listening to their constituent voices?

Titsworth stressed the city already has more parking available than it required by state or local ordinance, or to meet requirements for federal funding for beach renourishment. In total, the city needs to keep 390 spaces for the public. An interlocal agreement already in place with the county requires 500 spaces.

Debates have ranged over how much parking existed or has been lost. The county estimates there were some 2,400 spaces available to the public before the pandemic. Through various reclassifications of neighborhood parking and elimination of street spaces, there are now 1,260 spots. There’s another 640 spaces that require permits, and city and county voices argue whether those should count because they aren’t available to all beach goers.

Van Ostenbridge, for his part, said he has tried to move past arguments about how many spaces are available. The greater concern is there’s a county-owned and -maintained beach on the island with limited access, and there haven’t been good faith efforts made to ensure access to the rest of Manatee County taxpayers or to tourists from around the country.

Robinson said the Manatee County has seen massive growth in recent years, particularly in tourism. He’s been at odds over parking with the city for years, since the city greatly limited parking at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but then continued even as other lockdown measures expired.

He expects tourism to jump 25% in the next 30 years, with the beach serving as the primary draw for visitors to the county, and he feels access to a public amenity is a responsibility of government in the area. That’s why he’s pursuing a local bill to pre-empt Holmes Beach from having any say on whether Manatee County can build a garage on land owned by the county government on the island.

Meanwhile, Boyd and Robinson are waiting for an Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability that will look at whether it’s justified to have three municipal governments on Anna Maria Island, a land mass Holmes Beach shares with The towns of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach. Legislation in coming sessions could look to consolidate the entire island under the same municipal entity, something which would dramatically change the political dymanics of all three cities.

Titsworth hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I have had real good discussions with Robinson and Boyd and hopefully they will reconsider filing the bills as this is a tremendous overstep and is not good governance,” she said. “I have urged them to work with us and not against us.”

She said the island is not unwelcoming to visitors. Indeed, the city generates a higher percentage of tourist development tax than any other in the county, and totals collected went up every month last year.

As the parking debate changes in how people travel has changed the dynamic and the make-up of the town. The number of permanent residents on the barrier island has declined dramatically, to 3,132 in 2021 compared to 4,305 in 2019, according to U.S. Census estimates. Meanwhile, Redfin reports home prices have leapt 37% year over year, with the median price now at $1.8 million. Those houses that are not homesteaded, whether because they are used only seasonal or for short-term rentals, have seen property values escalate massively, and the came goes for commercial property.

Boyd said this has made it harder to businesses to make money, and he fears the environment in the city has grown increasingly hostile to commerce. Regardless, he knows having many government services replicated in multiple jurisdictions on the island is costly, a part of why he wants to see the OPPAGA study and evaluate matters on the island.

“There are three Public Works departments, three building and planning departments, three bookkeeping departments. Aren’t there some ways, even if we kept three cities, to consolidate services and taxpayer money?” Boyd asked. “What we need to know is what is best for the taxpayers of the island. That’s not just residents. It’s the people who own property and don’t live full time but pay a lot of taxes there as well.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Joe

    February 13, 2023 at 9:17 am

    This is a power grab! There is plenty of parking for people coming on the island. I pay double the taxes of anyone in the county mainland. I was told by a property tax person in the county office that all you rich people can afford higher taxes then she hung up. We had no problem with parking until the existing lawmakers took office. They are held in bondage to a property magnate. Who sucking the people of Manatee County dry. One is gone and the other nine have to go. Wait until the high rises are built and no one comes to the beach unless you pay to go. That is the goal to control the masses and do what I tell you to.

    • Stu

      February 16, 2023 at 10:35 am

      “Plenty of Parking” – when the article clearly states that much less is available than before COVID – and yet the County is growing. That means LESS Parking…any way you want to frame it.
      “Double the Taxes” – so, you pay 2X the taxes of a 5m house on the Bradenton side of the Bay? What % of total Manatee County Taxes does HB pay? A tiny portion.
      Florida has always been about “Money Talks, BS Walks” – your taxes are a joke compared to the High Rises with 5+ Million dollar condos. So maybe they should have more power than you? Unless….you think the Public has a right to the beaches in which case Parking should increase with the population of the County.

  • James Miller

    February 13, 2023 at 12:49 pm

    I relocated from New Jersey to Palmetto, hard to even get onto the Island unless you go during off hours. But I can tell you the NJ has tried in the past to consolidate town services. Lots of duplication from local towns to cities to counties all doing the same things. Buying redundant equipment etc.

  • Carol Whitmore

    February 14, 2023 at 1:16 pm

    As a 53-year island resident, former Holmes Beach City Commissioner, Mayor, and Manatee County Commissioner until the end of November, this has been an issue. Let me be clear until the covid shutdown of beaches and boat ramps there were no complaints from residents to me as an at-large County Commissioner. When the City opened the parking restrictions after covid, residents loved no parking in front of their homes so City did not re-open the historically used 2,000 spaces, not 1,000. Former Administrator, Cheri Coreya contacted the cities and they never budged. Both County and City are not working together and won’t compromise. This is the problem. I lived here and don’t feel this is my private island.

Comments are closed.


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