By DOTTY NIST
Public parking in south Walton County is limited, and the biggest parking issues are safety-related, the public and local officials recently heard from consultants.
Avcon, Inc., had been tasked by Walton County with studying and making recommendations on public parking along the CR-30A and Scenic Gulf Drive corridors, with an emphasis on beach access parking. Avcon consultants provided a report on April 23 at a public workshop held at Leciel in Sandestin.
The workshop was attended by a number of county commissioners and staff, along with Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Executive Director Jim Bagby, Walton County Administrator Larry Jones, and South Walton Fire District Chief Administrator Rick Talbert. A good number of community members were present, as well.
AVCON engineer Tonia D. Nation handled the presentation, beginning with the southwest end of the county and discussing 11 individual focus areas from Scenic Gulf Drive to Inlet Beach on the southeast.
The study had not included Sandestin, WaterSound, or Rosemary Beach, due to no public/right-of-way parking being associated with those developments, it was stated. Neither had off-street parking been part of the investigation.
Among the general observations of the study was that, per Walton County’s Parking Ordinance 2003-15, parking is allowable in the right-of-way unless identified by a “No parking” sign. The consultants recommended a change to the ordinance to instead prohibit parking in the right-of-way unless marked or designated for parking. Enforcement of illegal parking was recommended, as well.
Overnight parking was identified as a problem in at least one area, and enforcement of the prohibition on this practice was recommended as a way to free up some parking spaces.
There were several general themes for the study areas, one being the recommendation to “formalize” right-of-way areas already used for parking for beach access by designating spaces, at least in areas where this was judged not to present a safety concern. In already-congested areas, the removal of signage along U.S. 98 alerting motorists to these accesses was recommended, along with the addition of signage placed near the beach accesses advising motorists of other nearby accesses.
In the case of underutilized accesses, the addition of signage along U.S. 98 alerting motorists to the accesses was recommended.
The addition of parking (except for bicycles) was not recommended in the case of neighborhood as opposed to regional beach accesses. Instead, the recommendation was to encourage the public to walk or ride bicycles to these accesses.
In a number of instances, there was a recommendation that restaurants be encouraged to make use of public parking in the evening hours in order to minimize parking issues.
Nation discussed a number of parcels that could possibly be developed as parking lots in order to provide additional public parking in the future. Among these were (with agreement of the owners) one in the Geronimo Street area that is now used as a private parking facility, a vacant piece of property near Gulf Place, and a potential lot in Grayton Beach. Nation noted that the county owns a piece of property near the Lakewood Beach Access that could be developed for parking in the future if demand for parking increases in that area.
For any of these parcels to be developed as parking, Nation recommended unpaved lots with white sand fill and natural curbing and with aesthetically-pleasing native-plant landscape buffers. Stormwater improvements were recommended to accompany parking area projects.
Summarizing the study, Nation reported that 985 existing parking spaces had been identified along the corridors included in the study. The addition of 254 additional spaces was recommended within one to five years, with the addition of 189 more spaces recommended within five to 15 years.
Public comment was taken, and the consultants received some compliments on their work, but there was also some critiquing.
While calling the presentation “excellent,” Seacrest resident Walter Moss had concerns that much of the additional parking represented in the totals amounted to “formalization” of parking already used by the public. He estimated that, subtracting for those spaces, “maybe you’re looking at a five-percent increase.” Moss observed that hundreds of homes are being built without corresponding beach access, and that the recommendations would not satisfy that need. “You’ve got to change how they get there,” he said, advocating for the use of shuttles.
John Finch of Sunshine Shuttle agreed. “You have to change the culture… provide transportation!” he urged. “You guys, we are not going to be able to pave our way out of this,” Finch warned.
Oyster Lake resident Jacquee Markel commented that, while hearing the presentation, she had chuckled to herself and thought, “are we really preparing for what’s coming?” Markel urged for the county to move quickly to acquire additional beachfront property for beach accesses and parking.
The detailed presentation and a video of the workshop are available on the Walton County web site, www.co.walton.fl.us under “Agenda and Minutes.”
Public input on the topic is being taken through April 30 via email. It may be sent to the email address: email@example.com
Follow-up public meetings are envisioned, as well. Information on those meetings will be forthcoming.
By DOTTY NIST