Cleaning up Destin: City aims to tackle code enforcement concerns

Matt Algarin

Given that code enforcement is a top priority in Destin, city leaders are taking a fresh approach with a new compliance action plan.

“Without code enforcement and a well-written code, a city loses the ability to manage and help its citizens,” Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell told The Log. “Because some of our code is decades old, and Destin has changed significantly since its incorporation, it is vital to make sure our code has also changed to match the needs of the community.”

The plan will outline the city’s strategy for dealing with a variety of issues, such as streamlining garbage collection and enforcement; reviewing the turtle lighting regulatory process; implementing a code enforcement tracking system to enhance transparency and accountability; creation of a special magistrate to accelerate code enforcement cases; and modifying the existing code to reduce the number of vehicles, boats, trailers and other items stored in front or side yards of homes.

The process will help the city “close some gaps” in the code, according to Public Information Manager Doug Rainer, who told The Log a lot of the changes were prompted by conversations with groups and organizations around the city.

City regulations require that all single family residences have solid waste and garbage service. On a quarterly basis Waste Management provides the city with a list of households that are 90-days past due on their service, which requires city staff to send out (600 to 900) letters and follow up to make sure they have paid.

Based on information from the city’s “weekly report” from the week of Jan. 2, there were a total of 60 “mandatory garbage process” cases under investigation.

Another issue impacting the code enforcement department is turtle lighting, which is a requirement under the city’s beach re-nourishment program. The process requires the city to work with each individual property owner fronting the Gulf of Mexico to ensure they are in compliance.

The Jan. 2 weekly report shows there were a total of 112 “turtle lighting” cases under investigation.

When it comes to compliance, one of the major issues faced by the city are those who “know the system,” which means they will bring their property into compliance before they go to the city’s code enforcement board, then several days later they “relapse” and the process begins all over.

For Councilman Jim Wood, one of the issues he sees is consistency, which he said was the “largest” complaint he’s gotten over time.

By implementing the system of a special magistrate, the city should be able to cure some of the issues with consistently enforcing its guidelines.

As for cleanliness, Wood says it plays a large roll in the city’s outward appearance and internal pride.

“If you ask some of us that do the Adopt-A-Street, cleanliness is a big deal,” he said. “I know the aesthetic thing is important to a lot of folks.”

“It’s easy to talk about code enforcement,” he added, “but it’s hard to actually do code enforcement.”

And that’s partially due to manpower, Ramswell told The Log.

“I would like to see an additional officer or two in place because I think that code enforcement is at the core of many issues we face as a city,” she said. “I believe we need to do a better job of tasking so that all aspects of the code are able to consistently be enforced and our officers are being proactive rather than responsive.”

For his part, Councilman Jim Foreman says that the city’s overall appearance affects how visitors perceive Destin.

To this point, the city will be looking at how it can not only clean up the public areas, but how it can address issues such as boats, cars, trailers and other items that are stored in residents yards.

“I think it’s important to establish that Destin has standards and we will enforce them,” Foreman said.