By DOTTY NIST
There are plans for possible changes to the Walton County Beach Activities Ordinance to be considered soon.
This county ordinance regulates use of the beach and conduct on the beach and other water bodies and includes rules for beach vending.
For a number of years it has been a regular practice for the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to consider needed changes to the ordinance at the end of the beach season. This is done with input from the public and from stakeholders, including beach vendors.
This year, BCC staff hosted two public workshops, held on Oct. 6 and 7 at Freeport Business Park, to take input on potential changes to the Beach Activities Ordinance.
Much discussion at the workshops involved complaints about crowding at public beach accesses and about tents and canopies at the accesses. There were also complaints about beachgoers digging holes and trenches on the beach.
There were suggestions for additional Beach Code Compliance officers and for officers to use smaller vehicles (not large trucks). Tony Cornman, Walton County Code Compliance director, responded that smaller vehicles were being acquired for use of the officers and that the addition of officers would also be considered by the county.
In 2018, the county put in place a managed beach vendor program at three regional beach accesses, including Ed Walline Regional Beach Access, Inlet Beach Regional Beach Access, and Grayton Dunes Regional Beach Access. The program provided for a beach attendant to work directly with beachgoers renting beach equipment to set up the equipment for their use and remove the equipment when the beachgoer had finished with it. This included chairs, umbrellas, and water sports equipment (kayaks, etc.)
Regional beach accesses are the larger accesses with bathrooms and parking.
In 2019, the managed beach vendor program was expanded to all but two of the regional beach accesses, with sharing by the public and vendors taking place at neighborhood beach accesses.
There was input at the Oct. 6 and 7 workshops in favor of expanding the managed beach vendor program to the neighborhood beach accesses as well, a proposal that is likely to be considered by county commissioners.
There were suggestions for a mechanism for suspension of vendor permits for repeat ordinance violations. It was revealed that draft language was being prepared in order for the BCC to consider putting such a mechanism in place.
There were calls at the workshops for limiting the number of beach chair/umbrella sets that vendors contracting with property owners may place on the beach in front of homes, based on the number of bedrooms, in order to reduce beach crowding. There have also been suggestions of vending being regulated as a commercial activity by the county rather than through the Beach Activities Ordinance.
Other discussion involved disallowing beach bonfires in areas where the beach is narrow due to erosion. Bonfire permits are issued by the South Walton Fire District.
For vendor storage boxes on the beach, a vinyl covering in place of wood storage boxes is likely to be considered.
When the BCC had approved holding the Oct. 6 and 7 workshops, plans had been discussed to bring workshop results before the BCC at its 9 a.m. Oct. 27 regular meeting in order for the officials to look at potential changes to the Beach Activities Ordinance at that time.
While the agenda for this meeting has not been provided at this time, the BCC may look at these potential changes at the Oct. 27 meeting. Meeting agendas are usually available on the Walton County website, www.co.walton.fl.us by the end of the week prior to Tuesday BCC regular meetings.
The Oct. 27 BCC regular meeting is to be held at Freeport Business Park in order to avoid a conflict with early voting. The meeting is to be accessible to the public as well by video and via ZOOM, and ZOOM instructions are also provided on the county website.