By DOTTY NIST
Revisions involving beach vending, plus additional changes to the Walton County Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance, have been finalized in the wake of a series of county commission meetings on the topic, with input from beach vendors and community members.
Final decisions on revisions to the ordinance took place at a Feb. 7 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) public hearing at the South Walton Annex.
For the BCC, this year’s revision process had begun with a nine-part set of revisions first presented to the BCC on Jan. 24 by Brian Kellenberger, beach operations director for the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC).
With the beach season fast approaching, the commissioners opted not to act on the first recommendation presented, which was for a public beach vendor management program. A number of program options had been outlined, ranging from a property lease agreement to a contract for services agreement with beach vendors, with different possibilities for where the program would apply, among those to all beach access property or only the seven regional beach accesses.
Instead, the commissioners directed that the TDC continue work on the management program and bring it back for consideration no later than September 2017 in order for it to be considered for the 2018 beach season.
To continue in force this year will be the “50 percent rule” for beach vendors that was established in 2015, limiting beach vendor operations to a maximum of 50 percent of the beach frontage at public beach accesses, with vending areas marked by the TDC, and members of the public also allowed to set up their own beach equipment within the vendor-designated areas.
Equipment storage, clear corridors, and distance of equipment from water and toe of dune
Vendors are currently allowed to store beach chairs and umbrellas rented for the following day at the toe of the dune at night. After discussion of options presented for changes to this policy, the commissioners voted to continue with the current practice for the 2017 beach season.
In response to complaints of beach chairs and umbrellas being set up so close to the water as to prevent walking on the beach and equipment being set up in a way to interfere with emergency vehicles’ ability to traverse the beach, revisions were proposed for areas to be left clear at the water’s edge and seaward of the toe of the dune.
Approved by the BCC are the following revisions applying both to vendors and the public at public beach accesses: “It shall be unlawful to place beach equipment on the beach within fifteen (15) feet of the water’s edge or within fifteen (15) feet of the toe of the dune .”
For vendors, another requirement is a clear 10-foot-wide corridor from lifeguard towers to the water at regional and neighborhood beach accesses and “one continuous access aisle through the middle of vendor zone for access to the water.”
Electricity and water, food vending ban
No beach vendor activities requiring permanent installation of electricity or running water will be permitted as vending operations by the county without proper permits from the state Department of Transportation (DEP) and the county building department.
Vending of food is not allowed on the beach. However, it has been clarified that the intent of this prohibition is to prevent hawking or selling of food products on the beach and not to bar special events vendors from bringing food onto the beach as previously arranged for those events.
Restrictions on tents
Among other newly-approved ordinance revisions applying to vendors and the public, tents larger than 6’x6’x6′ in size are prohibited from the beach at any regional or neighborhood beach access owned, leased, dedicated to, or maintained by the county or the TDC. (Putting up tents on privately-owned dry sand areas of the beach is prohibited per the terms of the Customary Use Ordinance, which is set to take effect on the beach in Walton County beginning on April 1. This excludes baby shade tents)
The tent prohibition does not prohibit private property owners, their guests or agents, from having any size tent on their property between one hour after sunrise and one hour after dusk.
Property owner permission, generator and shovel rules
Despite other discussion, the code provision requiring upland property owner permission for beach vending south of their property is to continue to apply.
The revised ordinance sets standards for generators used on the beach, providing that noise output must be 60 decibels or less, power output “less than or equal to one hundred twenty (120) volts, two thousand (2,000) watts sixteen (16) amps,” engine displacement 100 cubic centimeters or less, and physical size 24″x12″x18″ or less. Generators are also required to have an integrated fuel tank and be contained in an appropriately-sized sound-reducing box while in use. Fuel for generators may not be stored on the beach or dune walkovers, and a 20-pound fire extinguisher, class ABC, is required for use of generators on the beach.
In order to prevent the digging of large holes on the beach, having or using a steel blade shovel on the beach is now prohibited except for official public employees or specific place vendors and their employees.
Special events and beach wedding requirements
Among changes for special events on the beach is that more than 30 rather than more than 50 people expected to attend is the number to constitute a special event.
The ordinance requires a permit for a special event. A special event permit is also required for weddings at public beach access in order to avoid more than one wedding being held at the same time and location. In addition, vendors are barred from organizing, promoting, or conducting any special event without being listed on the special event permit application.
For special events/weddings, a detailed equipment list and layout showing quantity of tables, chairs, lights and other fixtures or equipment is required in connection with special events permits, along with a parking plan.
Special events may not be held within 100 feet of an active sea turtle nest.
Setting of fees and fines for violations
Violations of the ordinance constitute a civil infraction. Approval of the ordinance was accompanied with approval of resolution setting a schedule of beach vendor and special event fees, along with fines for ordinance violations. The ordinance provided for an increase in the yearly vendor fee from $500 to $750.
Adopted Feb. 7, the ordinance and resolution took effect immediately as provided by law.
Viewing the ordinance, fine and fee schedule
The newly-revised Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance in its entirety, along with the approved fee and fine schedule resolution, are available for viewing online at the following web addresses: www.co.walton.fl.us/DocumentCenter/View/12100 and www.co.walton.fl.us/DocumentCenter/View/7730.