By DOTTY NIST
A June 10 special meeting of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) focused on the public parking situation along Scenic Gulf Drive and along CR-30A from the county road’s west end to CR-83.
The meeting took place at the South Walton Annex.
In April, County consultants Avcon had completed a parking needs assessment study for the Scenic Gulf Drive and CR-30A corridor. In an April 23 public meeting, the consultants had presented their recommendation for the roads included in the study and had taken public comment. Follow-up meetings had been promised at that time.
The June 10 special meeting was the first of those, focusing on the westernmost segment of the study. Tonia Nation of Avcon, who provided a presentation, noted that the recommendations had been revised in response to public comments provided at the April 23 meeting and during the comment period that followed.
The June 10 presentation focused on the general areas of Scenic Gulf Drive, Dune Allen, Gulf Place, Gulfview Heights, and Blue Mountain Beach. Public comments were invited after a discussion and recommendations on each section.
Nation observed that the bulk of the public parking along Scenic Gulf Drive is located at the Miramar Beach Regional Beach Access, with 50 spaces existing at the beach access on the north side of Scenic Gulf Drive and 140 spaces on the south side. She told the commissioners and attendees that there is not much potential for adding more parking in that area without “going vertical” with a parking garage. A parking garage at the access would be a possibility that the county might want to consider, Nation said, with a business on the bottom and/or with “pay-for” parking. She added that it is possible to build a parking garage that does not look like a “concrete box” but resembles other businesses in the area.
If built, a parking garage would be required to conform with the countywide 50-foot height limit.
Nation turned to the next public parking along Scenic Gulf Drive, the parallel right-of-way parking spaces constructed by the county in the area of Seascape and the Whale’s Tail. Nation suggested utilizing parking meters in connection with these 105 spaces for nonresidents, along with a yearly pass arrangement for county residents. This was recommended partly to deal with an existing problem with illegal overnight parking along Scenic Gulf Drive.
Near the Geronimo Street Neighborhood Beach Access to the east, Nation identified some county property that could be used to provide approximately 27 public parking spaces. She noted that it would be necessary to work with beachfront restaurant in that area to provide for beach access in connection with the public parking.
Summing up the recommendation for the Scenic Gulf Drive section, Nation said a total of 294 additional spaces would be possible within 15 years if the county decide to “go vertical” with the parking garage at Miramar Beach Access. Essential for the section would be prohibiting right-of-way parking except in designated areas, she said.
Surfside resident Bob Sullivan commented at length on the section. Key points were no development of parking on the north side of Scenic Gulf Drive, enforcement of no right-of-way parking except in designated areas, and enforcement of no overnight parking. Parking by vehicles towing trailers, commercial vehicles, and RV’s should be prohibited, as well, Sullivan stated.
To free up parking on Scenic Gulf Drive, Sullivan called for condominiums in the area to require increased use of their private parking lots and utilization of shuttles to transport their residents to the beach, along with a requirement for employees of the properties to park on site. Sullivan also advocated re-engineering of the parallel parking spaces along Scenic Gulf Drive in the Seascape area to make the spaces smaller. He called for provisions to accommodate low-speed vehicle and motorcycle parking, as well.
Sullivan called for a formal survey of the usage of the parking at Miramar Beach access and the other public parking along Scenic Gulf Drive. He spoke in support of parking meters at all county beachfront parking areas, having calculated that revenue of $224,000 year would be possible just by using meters on the 105 spaces on Scenic Gulf Drive in the Seascape/Whale’s Tail area.
Commenting on the Dune Allen area along CR-30A, Nation observed that the first beach accesses on the west end of the county road are neighborhood accesses, the one along Stallworth Boulevard, the one at Beach Highlands Avenue, and the one at Bullard Road. The Stallworth access, she said, is accessed via a private gated road that not accessible to the general public and has no parking associated with it. There are just six spaces at the Beach Highlands access, Nation said, and no parking in connection with the Bullard Road access, which is just a sand foot path.
Turning to the area from the Stinky’s Fish Camp restaurant to Fort Panic, Nation identified definite parking issues. There are 30 spaces associated with the Fort Panic Regional Beach Access, she said, and room for additional parking along Woodward Drive, although “no parking” signs are now in place along Woodward. The study recommendation was to formalize parking along Woodward Drive in order to support the use of the beach access. The parking could be provided through a public/private partnership, Nation suggested, or through a “pay to park” arrangement. Additional parking now used along CR-30A in the vicinity could also be formalized but not as “pay to park,” she recommended.
While a good deal of right-of-way parking, associated with neighborhood beach accesses to the east, has been occurring along Allen Loop and near the Oyster Lake causeway, Nation discouraged such parking due to driveways being close together and possible erosional impacts on Oyster Lake.
No parking spaces were recommended in the Palms of Dune Allen area due to access to neighborhood accesses in that area being mostly by foot traffic or bicycle. No right-of-way parking issues were identified in that area.
Summarizing recommendations for the Fort Panic area, Nation recommended the addition of 45 spaces along CR-30A and Woodward Drive to the 45 spaces already existing for the section. Other recommendations were to add signage and to encourage restaurants and other businesses to utilize off-site parking, preferably located north of U.S. 98.
Jim Richard, owner of Stinky’s, urged for planning for parking well into the future. He observed that Walton County has the opportunity to put in some parking facilities just off CR-30A that could help meet parking needs as much as 20 years in the future.
Richard said he had acquired property next to his restaurant on Woodward Drive for parking but that there had been difficulties getting those plans approved. There would be an option to add parking in that area, he said, although the option would no longer be available at some point.
South Walton County resident Brian Christenson inquired about the possibility of street-legal golf carts being used to transport beachgoers to the Stallworth Beach Access—and about the possibility of expansion of the beach access across from the Dune Allen Tom Thumb.
Gulf Shore Manor homeowner Lee Cookson relayed his neighborhood’s concern about parking associated with the San Juan/Santa Clara beach accesses spilling into residential areas to the north of CR-30A. Cookson said valet parking at night by restaurants in the neighborhood was a particular problem for families. He asked for such parking and beach access parking to be limited to CR-30A and the area south of the county road.
Mike Shanklin, a resident of the Woodward Drive area, commented on the extreme congestion of the area of CR-30A from Stinky’s to Dune Allen. He did not favor on-street parking due to its potential to increase congestion plus cause damage to utilities in place along the roadway. He agreed that employee shuttles would be a good idea.
George McCauley spoke of continuous congestion at the Stallworth access, suggesting an alternate parking facility or the extension of parking there.
Proceeding to recommendations for Gulf Place, Nation commented that, in common with all sections, the consultants would suggest off-site parking and shuttle services for businesses.
Also recommended was a “beach access shuttle” to provide transportation to regional beach accesses only. Neighborhood accesses, Nation explained, do not have the necessary room for a shuttle to manoeuvre and turn around.
It was suggested that the county consider such a shuttle to drop off and pick up beachgoers at the regional beach accesses, with tourists to hopefully make this transportation choice during their stay rather than relying on their automobiles, thus reducing traffic and cutting down on and parking needs.
Nation observed that the business shuttle (the Turtle Express trolley) now in operation in south Walton County has been gaining in popularity. The trolley is funded by local businesses.
With parking a major demand in the Gulf Place area, Nation said people are currently parking on the west side of CR-393. She suggested extending that parking to the east side of CR-393 also. along with the installation of curbs and possibly landscaping to discourage parking along the CR-393/CR-30A intersection. Nation emphasized that parking at the intersection has created hazards.
She was in favor of the addition of an 84-space parking lot on vacant property across from Ed Walline Park. This is privately-owned land that the county has already leased for the summer season for this purpose and about which staff has been directed to approach the owner regarding purchase by the county.
The study recommendation was to limit parking along CR-30A in this section, as the right-of-way is only 60 feet there. It was stated that parking on CR-30A has the potential to add to congestion.
Summing up recommendations for Gulf Place, the addition of 20 right-of-way spaces was advised in order to supplement the existing 68 spaces, along with the addition of the 84-space parking lot. In the interest of alleviating traffic, The use of a beach shuttle was also recommended to support Gulf Place and access to the beach.
Focusing on Gulfview Heights, Nation observed that right-of-way parking is being used in connection with this regional beach access, which is becoming better known. She reported that 46 such spaces were being used between the beach access and CR-30A, although some public comment had disputed this number.
Nation said the consultants had spoken with Walton County Public Works and had been told that there was no restriction on right-of-way parking in this area. The recommendation was to designate an additional 20 right-of-way parking spaces and consider the beach access as a stop for the beach shuttle.
The last area for discussion at the June 10 special meeting was Blue Mountain Beach. Nation observed that the community is the site of one of the smaller regional beach accesses, providing 22 spaces, and also some neighborhood beach accesses. She added that “no parking” signs stand along Blue Mountain Road.
For the neighborhood accesses, she recommended not adding parking but instead encouraging use of foot and bike traffic by beachgoers.
To support the regional beach access, the formalization of a few right-of-way parking spaces along the east and west sides of CR-83 was proposed, along with the addition of a few spaces along the north side of Blue Mountain Road. This would add approximately 17 spaces to the 22 existing ones at the regional beach access.
In additional public comment, south Walton County resident Tami Reinhart called for the county to support the shuttle that had been discussed and provide formal shuttle stops, along with parking lots for those utilizing this transportation.
With regard to the many ordinances considered in recent months, Reinhart suggested that rather than short-term attempts to deal with issues, a long-term look at “where we are headed” and an effort to tie future needs together. She called for determining “what is capacity.” Then, “Let’s build for that,” Reinhart urged.
South Walton County resident Amanda Schuette asked if the consultants had assumed that beach parking was being used by beachgoers. She had observed that some of this parking was being utilized by businesses and residents for other purposes.
Nation responded that this had been evaluated, which was one of the reasons for recommending employee shuttles. Also, beach parking spots have been in use overnight illegally, particularly along Scenic Gulf Drive, she reported.
“Enforcement is a huge portion of this,” Nation said of the assessment.
Schuette suggested methods to discourage problem parking that would free up enforcement manpower, the planting of shrubs, for example.
Nation emphasized that the recommendations are a draft, with additional modifications to take place in response to input.
The next parking assessment study follow-up meeting is to cover areas from Blue Mountain Beach to CR-395. It is scheduled for 3 p.m. on July 8 at the South Walton Annex, preceding the regular BCC meeting on that date.
By DOTTY NIST