At the beginning of Monday night's Customary Use Committee meeting, Chairman Tom McGee told the members that at the end of the meeting he would ask them to entertain a motion recommending the ordinance of Customary Use not go into effect on April 1 or a motion recommending the ordinance should go forward but with certain recommended changes.
Mediator Rob McNeely warned the members that both sides could lose in court.
"If you customary use proponents take this to court, customary use could be deemed unconstitutional or a taking without just compensation," McNeely said. "And, as for you property-rights proponents, you may lose in court. Tona-Rama was 43 years ago and that has not changed. Beaches are different from other land. Will the state allow its beaches to be privatized and affect tourism? In that case, a state income tax would be likely to offset lost revenue. All of this should be motivation to come to a resolution."
The panel motioned to engage in more discussion before voting on which of the two resolutions to send back to the Board of County Commissioners.
Over the course of the next four hours, the committee heard from Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson about legalities and how the ordinance would actually affect them, but most importantly, the committee members with polarized viewpoints talked to each other about their concerns and fears.
Adkinson helped allay fears when he told the group that customary use deals with east/west sand, not north/south, and if it's private property, you can prohibit people from coming up to your home or setting up tents in front of your home.
"However, property owners can set up tents on their property," he said. "Private property owners will not give up property rights. A lot can be handled with deputies and code enforcement officers. Education is key.
"The question is, is an action disturbing someone," Adkinson added. "We are already dealing with that. Property owners' biggest concern is people could walk up to their houses. They have no right to do that now. Freedoms stop when it infringes."
After listening to each other and the sheriff, members voted for the customary use ordinance to move forward and for Assistant County Attorney Sydney Noyes to draft a proposal defining and spelling out what particular activities are included in customary use of South Walton's beaches. Those activities include walking, jogging, sitting, sun bathing, fishing, building sand sculptures, swimming, and surfing. Tents would be prohibited.
The committee's next meeting will be Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.