‘A boardwalk with a fishing problem’: Destin waterside businesses struggle for space

Savannah Chastain | The Log
In the foreground kayaks and signs cover the portion of the dock not regulated by the city. In the background, businesses were asked by the city to comply by removing signs from the boardwalk.

Things often get crowded down on the docks, especially during high tourist season, with fishing boats backing in with their catch, various water excursions coming and going, and of course crowds of people gathering to gawk at the harbor’s edge.

And with all the hustle and bustle, questions have begun to emerge between business owners and the city as to regulations surrounding advertisement signs and walking space on the boardwalk.

Charter boat captain Neill Finkle of the Shock N’ Yall told The Log he has repeatedly been asked by the city to take down his A-frame signs which sit on the boardwalk to advertise his company, while other businesses on the same dock have been allowed to post not only signs, but various other water equipment as well.

“Signs that were there before it was a boardwalk are now not allowed because they say they are blocking the walkway,” said Finkle. “We had them on the walkway originally, then they came and made this beautiful boardwalk that is three times the size it was, and now we can’t have our signs. It’s like now it’s just a boardwalk with a fishing problem.”

 City Development Manager Steve Schmidt said laws on the boardwalk come down to an easement agreement, which was mutually agreed upon between property owners and the city before the boardwalk was built.

“In the easement language, it’s OK as long as it doesn’t obstruct the walkway,” said Schmidt of the disputed signs. “My response is just to make sure we keep it an attractive, walkable area that is convenient to the public.” 

The easement agreement for Neill’s business falls under property owners Tim and Wendy Kreig who also operate their business, Blue Herron Watersports in the same area.

The disputed paragraph in the easement reads:

“The City agrees that Owner has the right to relocate and re-orient existing structures on Owner’s property, signs, associated advertising… on the boardwalk…at Owner’s discretion to improve exposure and circulation…and will remain as legal non-conforming structures provided an accessible walking surface is not restricted to less than 15 feet within the easement area.”

Also involved in the law dispute are sections of the city’s Land Development Code that prohibit portable signs. The law reads in section 16: “Set a limit of one sign on the harbor waterfront in the South harbor mixed use district, and provide that a sign should not be placed in a public easement.”

What complicates the matter is that not all of the properties along the boardwalk signed an easement agreement with the city, so they are not subject to the same rules and regulations.

“Some of the property owners signed an agreement and some of them didn’t,” said Finkle. “You go down to either end of the boardwalk and everyone who did not sign an easement has their signs up, and they aren’t bothering anybody, and everyone who did sign it are penalized.”

 Schmidt told The Log that each agreement is different based on the needs of the business, and not all renting tenants are made aware of the easement regulations.

“The easement varies in width and the easement document basically says that the walkway is not to be obstructed,” Schmidt said. “I’ve tried to basically to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Lean it up against your kiosk that’s OK. We want people to be able to run their business, so we’ve taken the position of a minimum of 15 feet and an average of 25 feet clearance for people to walk through unobstructed, and where the easement is bigger I’ve been more lenient.”

In his case, Finkle feels singled out, although he has complied with the city’s request to remove his signs from the boardwalk. The two signs now sit on his fish display board, and on an adjacent picnic table. 

“My sign where it was permanently mounted on the boardwalk, there was still plenty of room. Then I removed that one, and now I can’t have an A-frame sign,” he said. “It’s become a carnival paradise.”