RELATED STORY: Arrests confirm residents' fear
By Willie Howard
Free public parking at Boynton Harbor Marina could become a thing of the past.
The board of the Marina Village condominium, which owns the parking garage, plans to charge drivers $5 each to park in the public parking section of the garage Thursday through Sunday beginning Jan. 15 — unless the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency is able to devise another plan that satisfies Marina Village managers.
Money raised by parking fees would pay for attendants who would manage traffic flow and watch for “undesirable activity” that has been reported in the garage in recent months. They would not valet park cars.
The parking fee proposal drew a strong response from the owners of boats that offer diving and fishing charters to the public as well as marina restaurant owners because it would effectively increase their prices and discourage them from coming to the area.
The Sea Mist III drift boat, for instance, charges $40 a person for four hours of fishing. Adding $5 for parking pushes the price up 12.5 percent.
The Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency is looking for an alternative to the parking fee, but it has no control over the final outcome because the garage is owned by the Marina Village and controlled by its master association board.
During a discussion of the parking problems at the Dec. 9 CRA board meeting, Mayor Jerry Taylor sided with marina tenants in opposing the public parking fee.
“I’m totally against charging $5 for people to park in there,” said Taylor, chairman of the CRA board. “The CRA needs to budget money to oversee that garage and keep it open to the public.”
It would cost the CRA about $54,000 annually for attendants to control traffic and police the parking garage as proposed by Marina Village.
The CRA board voted 6-1, with member David Merker dissenting, to have the agency’s staff come back with a plan that would eliminate the $5 daily parking fee. The staff is expected to present its plan during the Jan. 13 CRA board meeting. That’s two days before Marina Village is scheduled to begin charging the parking fee.
As proposed, the fee would be levied from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Boat owners who rent marina slips would be assigned one free parking space each, though two spaces would be assigned to the 72-foot Sea Mist III.
The CRA designated 122 spaces on the lower floors of the garage for public parking. Rights to those spaces stem from CRA’s purchase of the fuel dock property along the Intracoastal Waterway from the Marina Village developers.
Marina Village residents use the upper floors of the garage. A gate separates public parking spaces on the lower two floors from those reserved for condo residents.
During the Dec. 9 CRA meeting, Marina Village residents said trucks have trouble turning around in the garage, causing traffic jams, and careless drivers can make walking in the garage dangerous.
“We have had numerous accidents in the garage,” Marina Village board member Peter Armor said. “We have had people walking in the garage who have almost been run over. The residents of Marina Village cannot afford to be hurt.”
Taylor said he has received reports of people throwing up, defecating and committing sex acts in the parking garage.
Marina Village Property Manager Rick Dunstan said the undesirable activities point to the need for attendants to monitor the garage, but marina tenants suggested the oversight could be accomplished with surveillance cameras.
Captains of dive and fishing charter boats told CRA board members that the $5 parking fee would hurt their businesses.
“Instructors will not bring their (dive) classes there,” said Craig Smart, owner of the Starfish Enterprise dive boat.
Kevin Metz of the Underwater Explorers dive boat said he might move his boat elsewhere if the parking fee hurts his business.
“Dive Boynton Beach is my website,” Metz told CRA board members. “Today I reserved another one: Dive Lantana.”
Adding to the parking squeeze is the CRA’s decision in November to designate a dozen parking spaces near the boat slips as a loading zone.
“We are determined to get those spaces behind our boats back,” said Karen Pratt of Geno IV Charters, noting that she has disabled customers who must walk 187 yards from the disabled parking spot in the garage to the Geno IV.
“They’re ghost spaces,” said Capt. Paul Fasolo of Ham ‘R Time Sport Fishing Charter Service. “There’s nobody there.”
Pratt said she had gathered about 400 signatures on a petition opposing the $5 parking fee as of mid-December.
Kim Kelly, owner of the Hurricane Alley restaurant just west of the marina, said free public parking spaces at the marina were helping the city build some semblance of a downtown. “We don’t have a viable downtown,” Kelly told the CRA board. “We’re trying to build a downtown, and you’re taking it away.”
The CRA is taking heat over the parking fee proposal, but the agency has no control over the fee, Executive Director Vivian Brooks said.
“The Marina Village Master condo association was kind enough to involve the CRA and Two Georges in their decision-making process,” Brooks said. “The only owner of the garage is Marina Village.”
Members of the condo’s master association board said it’s clear that there simply are not enough parking spaces at the marina to serve all users, especially on weekends during the winter season.
Vice Mayor Joseph Casello, who serves as vice chairman of the CRA board, suggested a parking ticket validation system that would allow customers visiting restaurants and boats at the marina to be reimbursed.
Brooks said it’s possible that 64 parking spaces on the south side of Ocean Avenue could be used by employees of the Two Georges and Banana Boat restaurants to reduce congestion in the parking garage.
Banana Boat restaurant owner Luke Therien said in a Dec. 16 letter to the mayor that parking problems at the marina could be solved by doing three things: Finding alternative parking places for restaurant employees so they would steer clear of the garage; hiring a security guard to monitor the garage four nights a week; and adding surveillance cameras in the public parking section of the garage.
“Our city has made it abundantly clear the downtown and Marina District are a very important part of the future of Boynton Beach,” Therien wrote. “We need to come together to succeed and to compete against other cities that are working just as hard to build their downtowns.”