By DOTTY NIST
Recommendations for public parking were provided on Aug. 12 for southeastern Walton County.
Applying to the area from CR-395 to the Walton-Bay County line, this set of recommendations was part of the last of a series of three presentations by county consultants AVCON. The presentation took place at a Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) special meeting on Aug. 12 at the South Walton Annex.
AVCON had been enlisted to study the current situation with public parking along CR-30A and Scenic Gulf Drive and make recommendations to the BCC.
Speaking for AVCON, Tonia Nation had covered the area between CR-395 and Seacrest in another presentation but went back over that section as part of her remarks on Aug. 12. AVCON’s recommendations for the vicinity of Beachfront Trail in the Eastern Lake area drew comments from a number of attendees.
The recommendation for CR-395 was for 25 additional parking spaces along the right-of-way for use of beachgoers, with 10 spaces having been constructed over the summer. Nation stated that, due to safety concerns, CR-30A east of CR-395 would not support right-of-way parking in the vicinity of three neighborhood beach accesses in the Montgomery Street area. She advised keeping those accesses neighborhood accesses, meaning that they would continue to serve neighboring residents and tourists staying nearby and would be accessed by foot or bicycle.
Beach accesses at Santa Clara Street, San Juan Avenue and Montigo Street came close to capacity usage this summer, Nation reported, so not much additional parking was proposed in connection with those accesses. An additional four spaces were recommended at Montigo, just off the right-of-way, on the condition of an ownership issue being cleared up in the area where the parking is proposed.
No additional parking was proposed for the Campbell Street, Beachwood Villas or One Seagrove Place beach accesses, while the addition of 10 spaces was proposed for the south side of the Eastern Lake Road right-of-way.
No parking was recommended for the Ramsgate area, where, Nation noted, a private right-of-way leads to a neighborhood county beach access.
Parking could not safely be added, Nation continued, along San Roy Road, at the Court property, Beach Side Drive, or the Sugar Dunes area, adding that right-of-ways are private for the latter two.
The addition of nine spaces was recommended for the Walton Dunes access, which the study referred to as a regional beach access. That status was later challenged by neighboring residents. Currently there is no parking associated with the access.
Nation also suggested that the county consider providing a small regional beach access on some county-owned property south of Beachfront Trail. “This would be a prime area for a regional beach access,” she said.
Currently there are 16 spaces in a parking area that had been constructed along Beachfront Trail by the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC). No additional spaces were proposed for that parking area, but the study recommended the construction of 16 spaces along the Beachfront Trail right-of-way.
In the Seacrest Beach area, the addition of 12 spaces along the north side of the CR-30A right-of-way was proposed between the Gulf Lakes Neighborhood Beach Access and the Seabreeze Neighborhood Beach Access.
The addition of eight spaces was recommended along the large right-of-way in front of Sea Shadow Townhomes, providing parking for beachgoers using the Seacrest Beach Neighborhood Beach Access.
No additional parking was proposed in connection with Inlet Beach’s several neighborhood beach accesses, including those at Winston Lane, Pompano Street and Wall Street, due to narrow right-of-ways, bends and dead ends on roads serving these accesses.
Inlet Beach also has a 120-space regional beach access which Nation observed had plenty of capacity available.
No additional parking was proposed for the Inlet Beach community.
Summarizing, Nation reported 952 spaces of public parking currently in existence in the study area. She explained that the study had identified the ability to add a total of 477 spaces.
Eleven citizens addressed the BCC in the public comment period that followed, most of those being residents and property owners on Beachfront Trail and the neighboring vicinity.
Charles Booth, a Beachfront Trail resident, spoke on behalf of the Walton Dunes Townhouse Association.
Booth questioned why Beachfront Trail had even been included in the study, since Sandestin, WaterSound, and Rosemary Beach had not been included due to the lack of public right-of-way in those areas. He maintained that there is no right-of-way or street parking on Beachfront Trail, yet the street was included in the study. Booth also argued that a study not including traffic and transportation studies was “irresponsible.”
He objected to the Walton Dunes access, which serves the Beachfront Trail area, as being described as a regional beach access. “It has always served the needs of that neighborhood,” Booth commented. He called for no change from that status for the access.
“Beachfront Trail is a narrow street,” Booth continued, explaining that the road is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other—and that there are no sidewalks, so that bicyclists and pedestrians must walk in the road.
He warned that the parking proposed for the Beachfront Trail right-of-way would be very dangerous. Booth detailed problems that trucks and utility vehicles already experience in traversing tight turns in the road.
Booth also noted that there is a road easement on the part of the road just north of the public beach access and that in his opinion it would be a problem with including parking on that easement.
Other residents pointed out the Beachfront Trail is a dead-end road and that there is no legal way for vehicles to turn around.
“None of you would want to drive through a parking lot to get to your house,” Beachfront Trail resident Charles Wilson told the commissioners in reference to the proposal for right-of-way parking on his street.
Other Beachfront Trail area residents spoke of the beach getting very crowded in their neighborhood during the summer, with some short-term renters saying that they would not return due to the crowding. Yet several residents said the TDC’s 16-space parking area was not being used much and that the parking lot at nearby Deer Lake Park was also underutilized. “Why build more parking?” they asked.
There was also a warning that more traffic and “traffic mess” would diminish property values in the Beachfront Trail area and result in less property taxes and less bed taxes coming to the county and the TDC.
“It’s simply not an appropriate place for a parking lot,” Beachfront Trail area resident Marina Daniel told the commissioners. What is needed, she said, is less car traffic. Daniel said the neighborhood would welcome more bike racks in connection with existing parking and a foot wash that had been proposed by the TDC.
South Walton County resident Caroling Geary said she does use the 16-space parking area and walks to Deer Lake State Park. She was hopeful that the area would not be developed in a way that would block the view of the gulf from the road.
Driftwood Estates resident Alan Osborne told the commissioners that just what is platted for south Walton County and not developed yet will “more than double traffic.” He urged the officials to strive to preserve quality of life as much as possible for residents and vacationers. High-density neighborhoods that have been approved close to the beach will result in crowding on the beach as they are developed, Osborne warned, ultimately resulting in reduced property values. He urged the commissioners to take every opportunity to purchase beach property for the use of the public.
The commissioners also heard from Montigo Avenue resident Elizabeth George, whose concern was stormwater running off existing parking areas into neighboring lots. She said she had no problem with the addition of parking as long as stormwater was managed better. George said this year’s flooding had forced her out of her home and that she still had not been able to return.
Blue Mountain Beach resident Emmett Hildreth commented that parking and public beach access issues were combining into “a big problem.” He identified an issue with signs directing beachgoers to the public beach access at CR-83 in Blue Mountain Beach, which is not very wide. Hildreth maintained that his beachfront subdivision, Blue Mountain Beach I, has a private beach. “We’re overloaded…the quality of life is going downhill fast for the residents of Walton County,” he told the commissioners.
“The headlong rush to bring millions more people here will not work,” Hildreth said of TDC efforts to promote the destination.
Nation noted that AVCON’s final recommendations would include recommendations regarding right-of-way parking policy and enforcement, along with some regarding “park and ride” and the use of shuttles.
Those recommendations are to be provided at a future BCC meeting.
By DOTTY NIST