The Coastal Community Association of Gulf County will host a public forum Friday to discuss recent actions by the Board of County Commissioners pertaining to ordinances on RVs in coastal areas and Leave No Trace.
The open forum, scheduled for 5 p.m. ET Friday at the St. Joseph Bay Golf Club, is to discuss the ramifications of potential BOCC action as well as to fashion a possible response.
In addition, a survey is being taken of coastal property owners in advance of Friday’s meeting to provide more insight into people’s views on the issues.
The overriding goal: consensus on issues and, more importantly, solutions.
The CCA, whose membership is primarily peninsula and Indian Pass property owners and residents, is hoping to attract folks from other impacted areas such as Port St. Joe, Highland View, St. Joe Beach, Simmons Bayou and Money Bayou.
Last week, the BOCC, with no reference to either topic on the meeting agenda, indicated it would take up staff recommendations pertaining to LNT and RVs during the coming month, including holding public workshops and hearings.
County administrator Michael Hammond indicated he would recommend commissioners strike the RV ordinance adopted in the past three years and return to the language in the land development regulations.
The LDRs allow one RV per lot, no matter where in the county.
“My recommendation would be to go back to what worked for 25 years,” Hammond said.
The county RV ordinance established a coastal corridor, one mile from open coastal waters, within which RVs had to be permitted and allowed only to sit for two seven-day stretches per year.
Any RVs in the coastal corridor must also be evacuated whenever local officials declare a local state of emergency due to an approaching storm; county staff has found RVs generally unresponsive to the provision during the two major storms that forced evacuation efforts since the ordinance was finalized.
“People are not complying with the permit regarding evacuation,” Hammond said.
Commissioners later amended the ordinance to carve out Highland View, St. Joe Beach and Oak Grove and the result has been an explosion of RVs in those areas, particularly Oak Grove.
The ordinance has become a thorn for county officials as well as those in the city of Port St. Joe, as long-time residents and property owners have decried impacts to neighborhood aesthetics and property values.
Hammond has called the ordinance a nightmare to enforce.
As for LNT, faced with criticism in recent weeks regarding the lack of enforcement efforts, commissioners will take up a recommendation from Hammond to take a more “common sense” approach.
That would primarily be to keep the beaches “open and safe,” continue a ban on glass on the beach and burning of manufactured wood, but not delve too deep into the tagging and removing of property left on the beach.
Hammond, a non-elected official, has argued the LNT ordinance was an overreach by the then-BOCC and, much like the RV ordinance, presents myriad challenges regarding enforcement.
Both the RV and LNT ordinances were in large measure heavily lobbied for by the CCA membership.
And last week, Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the CCA argued that every other “beach” county in Florida has a LNT ordinance which the county enforces to some extent.
“There has to be a way here,” she said.
A complicating factor, and a key reason why the public forum aims to bring in a cross-section of coastal residents, is that the county’s beaches are markedly different depending on location.
The peninsula and Cape beaches differ, as do those of St. Joe Beach and Indian Pass.
The debate over LNT is also clouded by state law, and a governor’s directive regarding the new law, passed in the spring.
That bill, controversially, blocked local governments from passing measures allowing continued public entry to privately-owned beaches; a judge must approve such a move.
The bill, which arose from an issue in Walton County, has left many coastal counties wondering about the impacts.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said the local impacts should be negligible.
The county has laws, such as beach driving, which go back decades and support the concept of “customary use” of the beaches, he said.
In addition, beach restoration which took place a decade ago, and another project slated to begin this month, using public dollars, would lean in favor of preventing property owners, who sign agreements for restoration in front of their properties, from cutting off public access.