By DOTTY NIST
New public parking proposed in south Walton County for people going to the beach has proved to be of great interest to residents. While there is some community support, people with concerns about or opposed to the parking proposals have been the most vocal.
A Nov. 8 public input meeting held for the proposals at the Coastal Branch Library was well attended by residents. Dede Hinote, interim assistant county administrator, was in attendance, as was Cindy Meadows, commissioner-elect for Walton County District 5.
Cliff Knauer of Preble-Rish, engineering consultants for the county, explained that about a year previous, county commissioners and the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) had directed staff to look for solutions to parking problems in south Walton County, specifically along CR-30A. Since then, he said, there have been ongoing efforts to identify areas where public parking could be added. Recommendations provided to the commissioners and TDC were in two phases, he continued, short term and long-term solutions
Knauer said the solutions currently under consideration are the short-term ones, instances in which the county already owns right-of-way on which parking could be constructed.
He told attendees that there are currently 296 parking spaces along the 18-mile length of CR-30A.
Knauer presented conceptual plans for parking in three locations, all of those east of CR-395 on CR-30A.
The first of those was in the Walton Dunes area, where Knauer said 37 parking spaces are currently under consideration along both sides of a street known as Beachfront Trail. The original proposal had called for an additional 10 spaces. Knauer explained that certainly there would be additional modifications to the plan. A restroom on an adjacent parcel currently owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is envisioned in conjunction with the addition of parking, as the county anticipates being able to obtain a deed to the parcel.
The addition of as many as 42 spaces is under consideration in an eastward expansion of a 35-space parking area recently constructed on Santa Clara Avenue, also on county right-of-way. This is termed the Santa Clara Phase II proposal.
At the end of Montigo Avenue, 20 parking spaces along the right-of-way are being considered, along with a turn-around area and a walkover to the beach. Residents have questioned whether the county in fact owns the property where this parking is proposed. Knauer said the county attorney is working to determine the ownership of the property. If it is found that the county does not own it, the project would not proceed, he commented.
Richard Butela, who said he lives near Seagrove Beach, stated that he supports more beach parking. If additional parking is not constructed, he reasoned, many people will be excluded from the beach.
Other attendees agreed that more beach parking is needed but were critical of the locations proposed for the addition of parking. One of the most-heard comments from residents about the parking proposals was that existing parking in their neighborhoods was not being used.
“We’re building more when we don’t use what we have,” one man complained.
Knauer admitted that no survey had been conducted to see which of the existing parking areas were being filled.
“We very much support public access,” said Phyllis Weems, “but you’ve got to be smart and spread it out so our area doesn’t become a Destin.” Weems lives near the public beach access at Ed Walline Park. She suggested that the county direct people to areas where there is ample parking.
“I will be looking over a parking lot if this thing goes through at Montigo,” said Jasmine Circle homeowner Les Siegelman. “I strongly object,” he stated, calling for a comprehensive parking plan, the justification of the need for additional parking, and a cost effectiveness study in connection with the proposals.
Marina Daniels commented that the “busy time” is only two to three months of the year. She suggested utilizing shuttles during those months to get people to the beach rather than constructing additional parking where it is not needed.
“We’re not being stingy;” clarified Ted Danforth, “we want everyone to come.” Danforth called for pinpointing where parking is needed.
Charles Booth, president of the Walton Dunes Townhouse Association, presented a lengthy statement describing potential safety, environmental, and other issues related to the proposed parking in that area. Booth highlighted the absence of a needs analysis for the project. He noted that Beachfront Trail, the road on which the parking would be constructed on both sides of the right-of-way, is “a narrow, winding street.” “A flaw in the design,” Booth contended, would be that people would be forced into the middle of the road if the parking were constructed.
“This is a terrible way to cram people into a street that is not able to accommodate them now,” Booth said of the design….
Read the full story in the Nov. 15, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.