‘Free’ parking lot in Destin bites the dust

Tony Judnich

The number of freebies in Destin apparently is about to take another dip.

Earlier this year, city officials saw a big jump in the number of drivers who began using the free-to-park public parking lot at Zerbe Street and Sibert Avenue. That increase was prompted by the city's decision to begin charging motorists to park at the Marler Street public parking lot.

With that information in mind, and to encourage maximum use of more fee-based public parking spots, the City Council on Monday unanimously approved making the Zerbe/Sibert lot a pay-to-park lot. This lot currently has 51 parking spaces.

Destin officials began a pay-to-park pilot program at the 146-space Marler Street lot last May. That’s when drivers, including workers who are the backbone of the city’s popular HarborWalk area, began being required to pay $1 for the first hour and 50 cents for each additional hour to park their ride.

In the city’s pay-to-park setup, users can pay with the Passport Parking app on their smartphone, the app’s website or by calling the number on the signs at the parking lot.

Later on this past summer, the council directed staff to keep the pay-to-park system at the Marler Street lot. Thus far, it’s produced $8,000 in gross revenue, according to city information.

About half of that money could be used to convert the free, gravel and grassy Zerbe/Sibert parking lot to a pay-to-park lot. The conversion could include improving the lot’s surface, adding parking wheel stops, and posting more signs that direct motorists to the lot. City officials did not provide a timeline for the conversion.

The city’s pay-to-park system is enforced by a Destin code-enforcement official, who reportedly cites each violator with a $30 ticket.

Other parking changes that Destin officials have been discussing include the possibility of partnering with private developers to build a multi-level parking garage at either the Marler Street or Zerbe/Sibert parking lot property; creating 26 pay-to-park spaces along the west side of Sibert Avenue, between Calhoun Avenue and Zerbe Street; constructing a gravel surface, 44-space pay-to-park parking lot on a city-owned lot adjacent to the city cemetery; and in the Crystal Beach area, maybe using/buying a Gulf Power easement – north of Luke Avenue and between Dolphin and Cobia streets -- to build a new, asphalt pay-to-park lot that could accommodate up to 150 parking spaces.

The potential parking lot in Crystal Beach would allow overnight parking and lead to a decrease in the number of vehicles that are haphazardly parked alongside roads in "no-parking" areas and atop sidewalks, city officials said.

They said much of the demand for parking in Crystal Beach stems from users of short-term rental properties.

Destin officials "can’t solve the problem (of insufficient parking in Crystal Beach) until we give (visitors) the alternative to park somewhere else," City Manager Carisse LeJeune told the council.

Councilman Cyron Marler said he likes the idea of building a paid-parking garage at the Zerbe/Sibert parking lot.

"I’m for paid parking," said Marler, who also indicated that he favors a discounted parking pass for the many workers, like himself, of the tourist-magnet HarborWalk Village.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance to establish an "idle-speed, no-wake" boating safety zone in Joe’s Bayou. The potential zone would extend 500 feet in an arc-shape from the city-owned Joe’s Bayou Recreation Area Boat Ramp and Kayak Launch.