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Vero police suspended enforcing beachside parking limits

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of September 17, 2020)

Vero Beach police have stopped enforcing time limits on parking spaces in the beachside business district and downtown, ostensibly in an attempt to help struggling merchants during the pandemic.

But the lack of enforcement of time limits has actually made the beachside parking problem worse, some merchants said.

If you’ve been to the Central Beach or downtown Vero business districts the past few months, you might’ve noticed unticketed vehicles parked for longer than the allowed two or three hours.

That’s because the Vero Beach Police Department hasn’t been enforcing parking time limits during the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted a state-mandated shutdown of businesses deemed unessential and the restricted operations of those permitted to remain open.

“We’re in an extraordinary situation because of COVID and the shutdown, and the impact it’s had on local businesses,” Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said. “We’ve been talking to merchants, who’ve told us they haven’t been getting many customers, and some businesses have been struggling to stay open.

“So, we’re trying to be understanding and make it easier for their customers [by making it more convenient to park], especially during the summer months, which are typically slower, anyway.”

Currey said the citywide suspension of parking enforcement – the action was approved by City Manager Monte Falls – does not apply to violations pertaining to the use of handicapped spaces and fire lanes.

Currey said he expects to resume ticketing time-limit violators when Vero Beach’s busy season unofficially begins on Nov. 1, unless public-health conditions prompt an extension.

“It all depends on the circumstances,” Currey said. “We’re doing this to help the merchants.”

But is it helping?

Some merchants said they’ve seen beachgoers, including people from out of town, park for hours in spaces along Ocean Drive, especially at Sexton Plaza.

Currey says he hasn’t heard any complaints from merchants about the suspension of time-limit enforcement, but Al Benkert, former president and a current vice president of Vero Beach’s Oceanside Business Association, said beachside merchants want the city’s parking ordinances enforced.

“The parking regulations were put in place to provide convenient parking for customers of the retail stores,” Benkert told Vero Beach 32963. “Our oceanside shopping district is a major attraction for visitors and residents of our little piece of paradise.

“We do need the parking regulations enforced for the retail stores, so their customers have easy access and they can stay in business. If the parking regulations are not enforced, the spaces are taken by non-shoppers for long periods of time.

“With recent lack of enforcement, we see less available parking for customers in certain areas along Ocean Drive.”

Asked if police told the business association that enforcement of parking time limits was being suspended during the pandemic, Benkert declined comment.

Main Street Vero Beach Executive Director Susan Gromis said her organization supports and appreciates the city’s efforts to make parking downtown easier for shoppers and diners during the pandemic.

“We haven’t exactly been swarming with people the past few months,” Gromis said. “We very much appreciate any help we can get.”

Gromis said she and her staff noticed the parking officer’s absence in recent months but weren’t aware of the enforcement suspension until Currey visited their office three weeks ago.

Currey said his department’s parking officer was temporarily reassigned to beefed-up beach patrols responsible for enforcing virus-related, social-distancing requirements.