HOLMES BEACH, Fla. — Memorial Day is one of the busiest weekends of the year on Anna Maria Island and right now, Manatee County commissioners are asking Holmes Beach to make more room for visitors by reopening 1,600 public parking spots the city closed last year.
"The spirit of what I’ve been hearing is that people feel very unwelcome at their beaches," said Kevin Van Ostenbridge, Manatee County commissioner.
Last year during the pandemic, the City of Holmes Beach closed street parking in the Anna Maria Island town to stop people from coming to the beach. But many of the spots were never reopened.
"Beachgoers are shorted 1650 spaces," said Van Ostenbridge. "You shouldn’t have to have enough money to live on Anna Maria Island to be able to access the beach."
This week Manatee County Commissioners sent a letter to the mayor of Holmes Beach, echoing a letter state representatives sent last year, asking the city to reopen 1,600 public parking spots.
"The citizens of Manatee County spend millions of dollars maintaining the beaches that the residents of Holmes Beach enjoy, and if that’s going to continue, the beaches need to be accessible to all the residents of Manatee County," said Van Ostenbridge.
Visitors like Kristin Steinman said finding a spot to park is difficult.
"Even with a golf cart you can’t find places to park," said Steiman.
ABC Action News asked Holmes Beach mayor Judy Titsworth if they would reopen the parking.
"There’s absolutely no way we can," said Titsworth.
Titsworth said city leaders decided to keep the spots closed to maintain the community's old Florida feel, because of many resident complaints of people leaving behind trash, and trespassing on private property.
"Beach accesses are extremely important. Everybody wants to get to the beach. But there’s got to be limited. There’s got to be limits on how many cars you can handle," said Titsworth.
The city said 26,000 cars come onto the island each day, and 34,000 to 46,000 cars are coming onto the island on the weekends.
"You see our small city, we can never provide for the number of users who want to use this beach," said Titsworth. "It's all about finding balance."
A balance that county commissioners hope they can find when sitting down with Holmes Beach leaders to discuss beach parking options next month.
"I still have faith that the city commissioners and mayor out there will understand that everyone still should have equal access to our beaches regardless of where they live and if they’re rich or poor," said Van Ostenbridge.