Beach chair crunch: City looks to regulate Norriego Point

Matt Algarin
Beach chairs, courtesy of the Emerald Grande, are a staple along Norriego Point during the summer season, as they are provided for guests of the hotel to enjoy.

Who should be able to place chairs on Norriego Point, how many, when and where? These are all questions the city aims to answer in due time.

“I have an issue with chairs,” Councilman Jim Wood said. “I’ve been wanting this solved for two years and we’re still not there yet.”

During a Monday night meeting, Wood told his colleagues that he would like to see the city craft some type of ordinance or regulations in regard to the beach chairs that are a common sight along Norriego Point during warm weather.

Over the years, workers at the Emerald Grande have placed chairs along the point for its guests to use from sunrise to sunset as part of a submerged land lease with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“As the city and the boardwalk continue to grow, providing these types of services are important to our guests,” said Peter Bos, CEO of Legendary Inc. “When in a beach environment, providing beach services is almost as natural as breathing.”

Since control of Norriego Point was deeded to the city in 2010 by Okaloosa County, city leaders are now responsible for all of the activities that take place on the point, which is a city park that’s open to the general public.

What it all boils down to for Wood is “equal access for everyone,” and he says that’s not the case right now.

Currently, the Emerald Grande is the only entity placing chairs for its guests on the point, but Wood says that’s not always going to be the case.

“It just so happens that one organization is doing this now,” he said. “But what happens when development picks up and others start to do the same thing?”

Basically, Wood said he doesn’t want to see the point become inundated with nothing but beach chairs provided by hotels along the harbor.

“That’s no longer the general public in my view,” he said.

Monday’s meeting isn’t the first time city leaders have broached the subject. Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley told councilors that he has spoken to the state about this issue, and it was determined that the placement of the beach chairs on the point “facilitates the utilization of a public beach area.”

With that said though, Shirley said the city needs to look into a way to get a grip on the matter.

“I wouldn’t recommend prohibiting it,” he said. “It would be my recommendation that over the next few months the city engage in some policy meetings to try and flush those rules a little bit.”

One suggestion was to put the city in the beach chair business.

Councilwoman Sandy Trammell suggested the chairs could be placed by the city staff and used by patrons on a first-come first-served basis.

“Let’s make it a cost-neutral venture,” she said. “Whatever we look at in total cost would be subdivided by the total number of chairs.”

Hiring a contractor to run a chair service made more sense to Councilman Jim Bagby, who told his colleagues that the beach service in Rosemary Beach, where he is the town manager, generates a “nice” amount of revenue.

At the end of the day, city leaders have time to determine what’s best, as the city staff has been tasked with pulling together a multitude of options for the city to consider moving forward.

For Bos, it’s definitely worth some more discussion.

“It all comes down to having a healthy discussion about offering first-class services to our guests,” he said.

And Wood agrees.

“I’m going to try and see all sides of this issue as we look at equal use.”