SANTA ROSA BEACH — Empty beach chairs won’toccupy large swaths of the prime Walton County coastline next tourist season if the South Walton Community Council has its way.
The council, represented at Tuesday’s County Commission by John Reichenbach, wants to see some pretty drastic changes to the way beach vendors conduct business.
“We think it’s critical we get behind a managed beach vendor program,” Reichenbach told commissioners.
Among the changes proposed by the Community Council is a regulation that would “eliminate ghost chairs” by requiring vendors to set up their chairs only after a beach-going customers arrive and remove it when they leave.
Although he came to the meeting prepared for discussion, Reichenbach will have to wait until next year for a public hearing on beach code revision recommendations.
Before he even stood to speak, commissioners voted to postpone any discussion Tuesday and schedule a forum for Jan. 9 to debate what will likely be a long series of beach management proposals.
The list of potential beach ordinance amendments was developed following several meetings after the summer tourist season, according to Brian Kellenberger, the Walton County Tourist Development Council’s director of beach operations.
Reichenbach was followed to the podium Tuesday by Phillip Poundstone, the president of the South Walton Beach Services Association.
Poundstone didn’t go into any detail about what his association intends to propose at the upcoming forum, but promised “there are some very proactive changes we’re going to offer this year.”
He said the association’s primary objective is to ensure ordinance changes do not regulate anyone out of business.
“We want to make sure the small guy stays in business and the big guy stays in business,” he said.
Walton County has heard complaints for years about vendors taking up too much beach space by setting up chairs that nobody sits in. They’ve also heard that vendors are too aggressive or that they set up dozens of chairs in prime locations along the water early in the morning before locals and visitors can claim a spot.
Like many other things along the beaches of South Walton, the vendor issues were exacerbated this year by the implementation of House Bill 631, which led to squabbling over customary use of the beach and private property rights.
Along with its call to eliminate ghost chairs, the South Walton Community Council also recommended that the number of beach vendor permits be limited and that a code enforcement officer or paid beach monitor be employed to watch for ordinance violations.