By DOTTY NIST
As envisioned, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) has voted to expand permitting in the county’s beach driving program–by what is considered a number of additional permits in keeping with maintaining safety on the short stretches of beachfront where driving is allowed.
The decision took place at a public hearing for the ordinance revisions that was part of the Feb. 8 regular BCC meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
For the public, beach driving is allowed in Walton County only by permit along short designated sections of Grayton Beach and Inlet Beach, and only during specified hours.
Between April 1 and May 10, property owners and residents who meet the conditions of the Walton County Beach Driving Ordinance will be able to apply for 150 additional permits that will be available for purchase beginning on June 1, with no more than one application possible per household.
Assuming that more than 150 people meeting the conditions of the ordinance apply for these additional permits, the Walton County Tax Collector’s Office is to conduct a lottery on May 15 to select which applicants will be able to obtain the 150 permits. The tax collector’s office will notify those whose applications are chosen in the lottery.
For the first time, in connection with the 150 new permits, beach driving applications will be accepted from Walton County registered voters who are not property owners in the county. Previously individual permits have been issued only to property owners, whether residents or nonresidents.
The 150 new permits will be in addition to the more than 750 beach driving permits that have a “vested” or “grandfathered” status as long as the property owners holding those permits do not allow them to expire. The yearly renewal fee for a beach driving permit will be $125, an increase from the previous fee of $105 per year. Permittees launching boats are required to obtain, in addition, boat trailer decals at a yearly cost of $30 per decal, with no increase in this fee with the revised ordinance.
The ordinance revision has removed the requirement for property owners applying for beach driving permits to have a habitable residence on their property.
Holders of the 150 new permits will not acquire a vested status. Those permit holders will have to take their chances in the lottery each year after applying for a permit during the April 1-May 10 application period.
Permits available to charter boat operators have been reduced from 20 to 15 with the revised ordinance.
Residents with disabilities will be eligible for a no-fee beach driving permit, and visitors will be eligible for a temporary permit.
County commissioners heard from a dozen residents and property owners at the Feb. 8 public hearing. Several who addressed the BCC complained that the grandfathering of their beach driving permits had been eliminated when the ordinance was last revised in January 2010 and the requirement for a property owner applying for a permit to have a habitable structure on their property was instituted. With that requirement to be eliminated, they urged the BCC to renew the vesting of their permits. However the commissioners were reluctant to add to the number of vested permits and did not take this action. Instead, people in this situation were invited to apply for one of the 150 new permits….
Read the full story in the February 17, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.