CRESTVIEW — The County Commission soon will consider whether to adopt an amended ordinance that includes a crackdown on beach vendors as well as a ban on weddings at any of the seven county beach accesses along Santa Rosa Boulevard.
Overall, the possible rule changes address commercial activities at beaches, parks and other recreational areas. If adopted, the revised ordinance would take effect before spring break and include possible fines for violators.
The commission will conduct a public hearing on the possible changes at its Feb. 19 meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. in the County Administration Building in Shalimar.
The county's beach vendor permitting process has been in place for about five years, county Public Works Director Jason Autrey told commissioners Tuesday.
He said the process had gone fairly well until last year, when the county fielded an increase in beachgoers’ complaints about the vendors, some of whom rent items such as beach chairs and umbrellas.
Autrey said the staff has discussed ways to improve the use of the public beaches by allowing vendors to work there “without the beach becoming privatized.”
At a December workshop on the issue, many Okaloosa Island residents complained that vendors were impeding on the public’s right to use the beach.
While condo association heads “enjoy having beach chairs and umbrellas there for the condo owners and their guests, the public is frustrated,” Deputy County Administrator of Operations Greg Kisela said after the workshop.
Compared to Destin’s beaches, where most property owners own land to the mean high water line, the beaches on Okaloosa Island are all public, save for about six parcels, Kisela said.
On county beaches, vendors must have the consent of the upland property owner and set up in the footprint behind the property.
“That kind of becomes their service area,” Kisela said. “But if all of their chairs are set up, it appears as if the beach had been privatized. Some of the vendors can be a little aggressive with the public."
Among other changes, the amended ordinance would call for the placement of equipment on the beach to be on a first-in-time basis.
“Personal property ... set on the beach on any given day by a member of the public prior to the beach vendor shall not be impeded by the vendor," according to the revised ordinance.
It also would require vendors to rent their equipment to anyone, not just the upland property owner, their residents or guests.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Brandon Wheeler from Destin-based Gulf Beach Weddings complained that the possible prohibition on weddings at the county beach accesses on Santa Rosa Boulevard would significantly impact his business and hurt tourism.
The amended ordinance calls for creating two designated beach wedding areas at John Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island and at James Lee Park by Destin.