Clearwater, Florida -- A whole lot of free parking spaces will be vanishing from Clearwater Beach.
It's one of Tampa Bay's busiest beach towns, and city planners say they need a way to handle the crowds and keep more parking spaces open.
So they're adding parking meters and raising rates in many of the beach's most popular spots.
A smaller version of this proposal came up last year, and pressure from beach workers led the city to pause the project.
But it's back, and it's bigger -- and the city says it's needed, because more people want to park at the beach than the number of spaces available.
The city's looking to add meters in at least 220 spaces.
Many of those spaces, which are currently free, are used by workers at restaurants and hotels. Others are used by people who live in the neighborhoods, and some are used by small motels that have no parking of their own.
Rates on many of the beach's meters will also go up for the first time in more than 10 years, rising by several cents an hour.
Even with these changes, the money from parking will still almost all come from tourists and it pays for year-round lifeguards, beach cleaning, and more.
But beyond that, the Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos says parking meters keep people moving and open up spaces for everyone.
"The parking studies show that you need turnover. And by having paid lots, you get turnover," said Cretekos, who along with City Council got an update on the plan from the city's staff Tuesday.
"We're also trying to make it easier for people who come to the beach to stay all day that they can use their telephone or they can use a credit card to purchase that parking."
The city will have three permit programs so not everyone has to pay by the hour.
Beach workers currently typically pay $40 a month, although that may go up slightly. Motels with limited parking can pay $200 per year, per room for guest permits. And residents can pay $75 a year for a permit.
The City Council heard this in a planning session Tuesday. There were several questions, but no major objections.
People who want input on the issue can call their City Council member or speak during the public comment part of the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.
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