Council discusses banning driving on beaches

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri |
City Council members discussed multiple issues at the Oct. 15 council meeting, including a proposed ordinance amendment that would ban non-emergency vehicles from driving on both public and private beaches. [SHERI KOTZUM/THE LOG]

It’s been unclear what the rules are in regards to driving on the beach in Destin.

In an incident in June of this year, photos of people parking their Jeeps on the beach near Destin’s East Pass sparked outrage on social media. But local authorities determined the vehicles were on private beaches and no laws had been violated.

But soon, that may change.

During a Destin City Council meeting on Monday, council members discussed a new ordinance that could ban various non-emergency wheeled vehicles from all public and private beaches in Destin.

In a council agenda report, interim City Manager Lance Johnson and Deputy City Manager Steve Schmidt stated that various wheeled vehicles on the beach are “aesthetically displeasing,” dangerous to beachgoers and harmful to wildlife such as nesting birds and sea turtles.

They also said Destin recently had seen an increase in the number of vehicles being driven on privately-owned beach property.

The previous city ordinance prohibited cars other than emergency and public safety vehicles on beaches, but it didn’t specify public or private beaches.

The proposed ordinance would amend the code “to clearly and unequivocally prohibit the use of (most) wheeled vehicles on all beaches in the Destin city limits, regardless of property ownership status,” according to city officials.

Exempted from the ordinance would be emergency/public safety vehicles, vehicles used by turtle nest monitors, baby strollers and wheelchairs and other equipment for mobility-impaired people.

Violators could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

During the meeting, the owner of Sunny Sands Beach Service asked council members to consider adding in an exception for beach vendors. He suggested issuing a permit to beach vendors for one heavy wheeled vehicle and one light-wheeled vehicle per vendor, so that they would be able to pick up broken equipment or remove storage boxes as needed.

“I’m strongly against this ordinance as written because it affects our livelihood,” the owner said.

The Sunny Sands owner assured the council that driving on the beach wouldn’t happen every day, but only when repairs were needed or equipment needed to be removed.

Councilman Tuffy Dixon agreed that something could be done to help the vendors.

“I don’t want to make it to where they absolutely can’t do their business down there. We gotta allow them to do their business,” Dixon said. “I just don’t want people joyriding on the beach.”

Dixon suggested limiting how many times a vendor could drive on the beach per day along with certain hours it would be allowed.

The council asked the city attorney bring back a revised ordinance amendment that incorporated beach vendors and their limitations.