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County commission schedules workshop to discuss parking fees at Siesta Beach

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Exactly one year ago, Sarasota County began looking at ways to alleviate traffic congestion and parking issues on Siesta Key.

A relaxing day on Siesta Beach is just that, once beach goers can get there. 

Even though they might have to put up with traffic on the way, the people enjoying Siesta Beach Wednesday said one of its best attractions is the free parking.

"Parking for free is good for everybody," said Melan Jurik, visiting Siesta Beach from Europe.

In Europe, Jurik said they have to pay to park at most beaches and soon that may be the case at Siesta Beach, too.

"This is new and unique to Sarasota County, the fact that we're even considering charging for parking there," said County Commissioner Charles Hines in the meeting. "In the past, we would all be thrown out of office for even talking about it, but now I think times have changed."

Wednesday, staff brought details on five potential solutions to the congestion on Siesta Key, to include paid beach parking, an expanded trolley service, a park and ride, bicycle sharing and a water taxi service.

But when it comes to where the park and ride would be located, Parks and Recreation Director Carolyn Brown said utilizing the nearby malls would come at a cost.

"I am really disheartened by the poor response from the big shopping centers in proximity to Siesta," said County Commissioner Alan Maio.

As for a water taxi service, or officially charging beach goers a parking fee, the commission said it didn't know enough to make that decision.

"You could have paid trolley, you could have free trolley, you can have off site parking, there are so many variations on this theme, I don't see us accomplishing that on today's format," said Nancy Detert, the County Commission Chair.

But the board did decide that after seeing its success, it would extend the trolley's contract for another three years.

Next county commissioners will set a date to thoroughly discuss these options at a workshop. There, they will review several studies that staff and other third parties have conducted on paid parking.

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