By DOTTY NIST
Proposed revisions to Walton County’s Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance have been formulated and are up for consideration at a Feb. 7 county commission special meeting.
A number are related to beach vending regulations, but included are revisions related to use of the beach and beach equipment by the general public.
The proposed revisions come in the wake of review of the ordinance and beach issues by the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and its committees, along with two Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meetings on the topic on Jan. 18 and Jan. 26 at the South Walton Annex.
At the latter meetings, county commissioners reviewed recommendations on beach issues from the TDC and its staff and also took input from the community, including vendors and the general public.
New vendor organization
At the Jan. 18 meeting, Phillip Poundstone was one of a number of vendors addressing the commissioners. He brought news of a newly-formed organization of beach vendors currently representing 25 different companies and approximately 300 employees. “It’s more than just people on the beach,” Poundstone said of the vending companies, explaining that these companies also employ people working off the beach, for example, to answer phones, furnish customer service, and create graphics for the businesses.
Poundstone addressed three main vendor issues that had been identified in the community, including the “rush to the beach,” the unoccupied or “ghost” chairs, and the lack of space on the beach.
He was of the opinion that the 50-percent rule that had already been implemented, setting a maximum area for beach vendors at the public beach accesses, had addressed the first two issues. Poundstone noted that the vendor areas tended to fill up faster than those where only the public may set up beach equipment. “The desire is for vendors,” he maintained.
On the lack of space problem, Poundstone acknowledged that the beach is very narrow in some areas. However, he was optimistic that the Customary Use Ordinance to be implemented by Walton County on April 1 would help address the problem of lack of space on the beach.
Poundstone said vendors in the organization had discussed plans to ask their customers renting equipment over a period of time to let them know the days when they would not be on the beach. This would allow the vendors to refrain from setting out chairs for those customers on those days and avoid unoccupied chairs.
Poundstone said vendors welcomed the addition of beach code enforcement officers and would work to help them.
His request was for the county to keep vending regulations as they are for this year’s season. He was confident that the new organization would be able to “police” vendors and hold them to a higher standard. Let 2017 be “a year of evaluation,” he urged.
Proposed revisions and beach management plan
However, the commissioners did decide on a number of proposed revisions to the ordinance that would apply to vendors and the general public.
A comprehensive beach management program, possibly with bidding out of accesses to vendors, was not part of the proposed revisions.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson, who has spoken against a bidding out of the accesses, noted that there was not enough time before the start of this year’s beach season to develop the management plan. District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman emphasized that the plan should be ready and be brought before the BCC no later than September in order to be considered for the 2018 season.
District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones suggested applying the plan, if approved, to one beach access in 2018.
Brian Kellenberger, TDC beach operations manager, agreed that a “pilot program” as suggested by Jones would be a good idea.
The TDC was directed to “define and refine” the concept for a beach management plan and continue work on a plan to be brought before the BCC in September 2017.
Storage of equipment at toe of dune
Currently, there is a policy providing for vendors to store equipment rented for the following day at the toe of the dune at night. There was a long discussion on this that included the possibility of requiring the vendors’ equipment to be placed in storage boxes at night and possibly providing boxes or space in boxes for the public to store their chairs and umbrellas at night as well.
The discussion concluded with direction to stay with the current practice.
Distance of equipment from water’s edge/toe of dune
Among other proposed revisions decided on was a requirement to place equipment no closer than 15 feet from the water’s edge at both neighborhood and regional beach accesses. Aimed at leaving room for walking along the beach, this requirement would apply both to vendors and the general public when setting up chairs, umbrellas, etc. The rule would apply to public beach accesses and associated property but not resort beaches.
In addition, as proposed there would be a requirement to leave clear a 15-foot distance from the toe of the dune or most seaward point of the dune walkover in order to allow for traverse of emergency vehicles. This would apply both to vendors and the public along all 26 miles of Walton County beaches.
Public access aisles, maximum tent size
A requirement under discussion for six-foot-wide public access aisles to the water between every fourth chair/umbrella set-up within vendor areas at drew fire from vendors. They objected that this would reduce their space by 20 percent.
A compromise proposal was arrived at to require four-foot-wide access aisles between every six set-ups, with the requirement to apply to public beach accesses. It would apply to vendor areas but not to the public setting up their own equipment at the accesses.
As recommended by the TDC, there was direction to limit the size of tents on the beach to 6’x6’x6′.
Requirement for upland property owner permission for vending, fees
A code provision is currently in place requiring the permission of the upland property owner in order for vending to take place on the beach south of their home, even at public beach accesses and beach property owned by or leased to the county.
There was discussion at the Jan. 18 meeting of a code revision to remove this requirement solely for beach property deeded to the county. However the possibility of such a revision did not carry forward to the Jan. 26 meeting, where it was stated that no change would be proposed.
There was also direction to propose an increase in the yearly fee for a vending license from the current $500 to $750.
Special events on the beach
Several issues discussed at the Jan. 26 meeting dealt with special events on the beach. Under current practices, a vending permit is not required for special events on the beach such as weddings and parties.
There was consensus, per TDC recommendation, that special events held on the beach should be conducted by a permitted beach vendor and that all required permits for activities for a specific special event should be obtained by the same permitted vendor.
There was discussion of increasing the fee for special events on the beach from the current $50, depending on the number of people attending. The TDC proposal was for a $1,000 fee for greater than 50 attendees. There was tentative consensus on the $1,000 fee for weddings with 30 or more people attending—and for a lesser fee of $150 for non-wedding events attended by less than 30 people.
The commissioners agreed with recommendations by the TDC to require a detailed parking plan for special events and a list of allowable items to be placed on the beach for events, which would exclude sofas and stoves.
After additional discussion, Sidney Noyes, assistant county attorney, pledged to have the final ordinance revision proposals, based on direction from the meetings, written up and available by Jan. 30.
The BCC hearing to consider adoption of the revisions is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the South Walton Annex.