It's difficult to get a roomful of people to agree on anything, but many small business owners in South Walton are united in opposition to a new proposed parking ordinance.
The proposed ordinance would require all business owners to have a set number of parking spaces at their sites that are calculated using a formula using square footage and number of employees. At present, there are 108 small business owners in South Walton who have come together to oppose the proposal.
"All business people here are concerned about the new parking ordinance and we took responsibility to form a group consisting of small business owners," said William Schissler, owner of Frank's Cash & Carry in Grayton and Freeport. "When you take the number of square feet and employees formula, for me to be in compliance I need 42 parking spaces in Grayton. In Freeport we need 100. I don't have that much land. They say we are grandfathered in. But if a big storm comes through and leaves me with extensive damage I would be required to bring my business into compliance; or if I want to sell.”
Grayton Beach attorney Gary Shipman's practice would also be affected by the ordinance. He is offering his time and expertise pro bono to guide the newly formed group.
Shipman currently has 16 parking spaces for a 4,000-square-foot building. If the ordinance passes Shipman would need 40 spaces. However, he has nowhere to get the extra spaces.
"Other than Publix or Walmart, no one would be in compliance," he said.
Shipman said that when word spread about the proposal, a complaint was registered with the Planning Department, and then a workshop was scheduled.
"There is a groundswell of opposition to this by business owners," he said. "It would be a disaster. No one is saying there is not a parking problem here. But there are other ways to do it.”
Shipman said he plans to present a petition at the now-scheduled public workshop on Tuesday that would have the signature of more than 1,000 registered voters against it.
“We are trying to get answers,” Schissler said. “People come here and love this place, then they move in and want to change the way things are. Beach life is parties, bars, restaurants, but when new people move here, they want it all stopped."
Schissler is serving as president of the newly formed group called the Walton County Small Business Association, Inc. Marie's Bistro owner Hanie Nasri is the group's vice president, and the treasurer is Louis Petit.
"We felt as small businesses we don't stand a chance so we thought we needed to organize,” said Nasri.
Nasri said the first week there were 10 people at their organizational meeting, then 50, then 103 last week.
"Our mission is to make sure we're not stepped on. We're just very tired," he said. "They would have voted Sept. 10 if we had not done what we did."
Petit said he would also be greatly affected by the parking ordinance. His restaurant Louis Louis consists of 4,000 square feet. Petit said he has maybe 25 parking spaces. If the ordinance passes he would need 40 or more and one parking space for every two employees.
“The guidelines are too stringent," he said.
Cindy Meadows said the proposed ordinance originated in the Planning Department, which gets so many complaints that they wanted to do something about the parking issue.
Meadows said all the County Commissioners looked at the proposal and have hired a consultant to give an assessment of the parking needs and how to accommodate visitors and guests.
"It's become a big issue," she said.
WANT TO GO? The small business owners group will discuss the parking proposal Sept. 17 at 1 p.m. at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.