by LISA MACNEIL
The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 at the July 30, 2019 meeting to pursue purchasing two additional properties near the Hernando Beach boat ramp to remedy the parking congestion seen when the two existing parking lots are full. Commissioner John Mitten was the one opposing vote, citing the expenditure of $1 million in Park Impact Fees on only one project.
On Commissioner Wayne Dukes’ mind for the past six years, has been how to clear parked boat trailers off of Caliente street when the two parking lots are full. Most recently, the county has considered purchasing land nearby to expand parking, and commissioned the Feasibility Analysis and Due Diligence study, which determined that the existing parking structures are roughly one-half of what is needed.
Expanding the number of parking spaces could result in more revenue for the county in the form of paid parking.
The county currently has contracts pending on the piece of triangular-shaped property at the apex of Caliente street and Petit Lane (“Parcel 1”), and the property directly north, designated as “Parcel 2.” The two other congruent parcels are directly adjacent, each north of “Parcel 2.” While the northernmost “Parcel 4” would be closest to the existing parking structures, there is no guarantee that the county will be able to purchase the land. Commissioner Steve Champion expressed confidence that the parcels to the south could be used.
Fixing problems on Petit Lane came up several times during the discussion, although which exact problems to be remedied were not discussed.
Coastal Engineering President Cliff Manuel spoke to the board both as a boater and an engineering professional. Manuel stressed that if the land were purchased by other commercial entities and developed, the county would miss their chance on expanding parking. “You won’t have a 4-acre parcel for $400,000 … (it will) get to the point where you can’t develop anymore.”
Commissioner Steve Champion agreed with Manuel, and said that investing in Gulf access is important following other investments that the county has made recently, most notably the artificial reef enhancements almost directly east of Hernando Beach. Champion then motioned that the county pursue the purchase of the other two parcels. “We don’t have to do it all at one time. I think we need to get the land. Maybe in steps, when we can afford it, we do the rest of it.” Champion went on to say that if the land was purchased without a parking lot added, at least emergency parking could be put in place.
Jodie Pillarella questioned the financial prudence of considering such a purchase at the present time, with the county’s finances being in a precarious state. Pillarella said that in her 29 years of residence in the area, she only sees overflow parking on roadways during holiday weekends. “You’re broke! And you want to spend millions of dollars on property just in case of a ‘worst case scenario’ for boat parking? Pillarella also added that most problems have arisen with incoming boaters vying for space to load their boats onto trailers at the end of the day, rather than finding parking and launch space.
Another resident reminded the board that Hernando Beach is a residential area, and questioned if the neighborhood could withstand any more boat traffic. Parking places aside, there are only four places from which to launch boats, which also see congestion during peak times.
Aquatics Manager Keith Kolasa reported that more reef development is planned, including the addition of 15 sites, and a possible Blue Water recreation site. Kolasa’s department has roughly $4.6-million slated in future projects.
Dukes agreed that Hernando Beach is primarily residential, and said, “But the county didn’t spend $15 million dollars (in previous years) to upgrade the canals for (only) the residents of Hernando Beach … I think we should make it as good as we can for Hernando County.”