Vendor boxes, set-ups, tents addressed at beach ordinance workshop

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

FREEPORT —  Within a month, Walton County commissioners will have a report on changes that residents, beach business operators and the county's code compliance department would like to see in the county's beach activities ordinance and the "beach side" operations of the department.

The report will be based largely on the two-day public workshop last Tuesday and Wednesday, which included comments on beach vendors, the providing of information on beach regulations to tourists, the potential for prohibiting tents and canopies on beaches and even the potential regulation of digging holes in the sand.   

Beach chairs are set up near the Whale's Tail Beach Bar in Grill in Miramar Beach in South Walton County. A two-day workshop addressed issues related to the county's beach activities ordinance.

That timetable, set by Tony Cornman, the county's director of code compliance, should provide sufficient time for commissioners to discuss and vote on any changes they might want in the ordinance before next year's tourist season, Cornman said Friday.

But exactly which commissioners will vote on those changes is not clear. Sitting Commissioners Bill Chapman and Melanie Nipper opted not to seek re-election this year, and Commissioner Tony Anderson faces a challenger in the Nov. 3 general election.

Beachgoers enjoy a day at the water near a sign explaining rules for beach use. Walton County hosted a two-day workshop last week to get ideas for potential amendments to its beach activities ordinance.

Speaking generally in recapping the beach activities ordinance workshop, Cornman said Friday he will recommend cleaning up "some of our verbiage in the code" regarding beach activities. More specifically, Cornman said earlier last week that he would like to see the beach activities ordinance strengthened with a specific procedure for suspending or revoking beach vendor permits.

On an operational level, Cornman said he will work to get code compliance personnel equipped with radios so they can communicate with emergency response crews. Cornman, who took the code compliance director job in March, could not say Friday why code personnel have not been equipped with radios.

More:Vendor issues dominate Walton beach activities ordinance workshop

During the two-day workshop, a number people of expressed frustration with the vendor boxes that line the back sides of beaches near the dune line. The large wooden boxes that are used to store chairs, umbrellas and other items offered for rent, can break up during hurricanes — as happened recently with Hurricane Sally — and add considerably to storm debris along the beaches.

"I found seven pieces of a box scattered along the beach where I live," said resident Bob Brooke, who added that it should have been the vendor's responsibility to pick up the pieces.

One possible solution discussed was replacing the boxes with vinyl covers that could be lashed across vendor items and locked for security. The covers, Cornman pointed out Friday, would be far easier for vendors to move off the beaches than the boxes.

"In 10 minutes, you've got it off the beach and it's done," he said.

Also brought up during the workshop was the issue of when vendors and beachgoers who bring their own chairs and umbrellas to the beach should be allowed to place their set-ups on the sand.

Broadly speaking, the arguments on both sides of the issue focused on vendors or beachgoers arriving early, with one group crowding out the other.

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Rich Jaffe of Inlet Beach suggested during Wednesday's session that vendors could be restricted to setting up chairs and umbrellas as customers arrive rather than setting up a large number of chairs in advance, some of which might not be rented.

On the other side of the issue, longtime beach vendor Robert Meadows told Cornman and the other county officials that beachgoers often will arrive at 5 a.m. to set up their chairs and other items, and crowd out potential vendor spaces.

Meadows also said that getting an early start is all but essential for vendors because by as early as 9 a.m. during the tourist season, the weather is already too hot for workers to install beach set-ups.

Also addressing beach set-ups was beachfront property owner Lisa Boushy, who saw tents and canopies put up by beachgoers as a particular problem.

Boushy pointed to the size of some canopies and tents, which can be as large as 14 feet by 14 feet, and noted that the ropes needed to secure them can effectively take up even more space.

"Wouldn't it be better to have no tents and canopies anywhere on the beach?" Boushy asked.

Boushy also asked whether the county could limit the size of holes allowed to be dug on the beach. Boushy reported seeing holes and trenches "that are just enormous" and pegged them as "a health and safety issue."

Cornman agreed, telling Boushy and others at the session that "I've run up on some holes that if an officer ran up on them at night, their trucks would probably disappear. It's like that's all they've (visitors) done on the beach is dig."

Along with others at the workshop, Boushy supported the county developing some way to communicate regulations to visitors. One idea presented was the placement of signs at beach accesses including a QR code — a barcode-like label that visitors could snap a picture of with their phones that would link them to information on beach regulations.

A recurring theme at the workshop was the apparent need for additional code compliance personnel.  

"We would love to have more positions," Cornman said. "You can help me get those positions, for sure."