For most of those who turned out to the regular monthly meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Tuesday morning, and afternoon, were a decidedly mixed bag.
Commissioners, during a meeting that sprawled beyond four hours, repealed an ordinance pertaining to RVs, effectively returning to rules in place prior to 2015.
They also approved maintaining the status quo on a Leave No Trace ordinance,
The latter had been urged since commissioners last month signaled the possibility they would amend LNT.
Tuesday’s public hearing followed an hour-long BOCC workshop last week and two prior community workshops.
Staff provided no proposed amendments Tuesday, leaving the discussion much as it was over the past three weeks.
During the workshops, with just one or two exceptions, speakers urged commissioners not to act in haste over LNT, which had boiled-up again as an issue during the height of a very busy summer season.
With Labor Day approaching, many urged, there was time to examine the ordinance and consider any fixes in time for the arrival of next summer.
And the board indicated quickly that it would support the idea.
Commissioner Phil McCroan, whose district includes much of the south Gulf County coastal areas, recommended that the board take no additional action.
“I recommend we peel back and leave it as it is at this time and let’s move forward,” McCroan said.
He said ongoing county efforts in support of the ordinance, an education approach and removal, at administrator discretion, of what County Administrator Michael Hammond said “abandoned items” would continue.
Further, McCroan said, he would push for the Gulf County Tourist Development Council to conduct workshops this fall, bringing in all stakeholders, to review LNT.
“We’re not going to have a heavy-handed approach,” McCroan added.
Enforcement has been the hot button this summer as several years of forward progress seemed to take a step back according to many who live and play along the beach.
And while Hammond emphasized that “abandoned” property was being removed by TDC parks and recreation crews, “unattended” property was not.
Another issue for the county is that during turtle season county crews can not access the beach each morning to fully enforce the times determining when property can be placed or must be removed.
Responses received during surveys sponsored by the CCA and two rental agencies indicated overwhelming support for the ordinance and for its enforcement.
As several speakers have noted, that will require a dedication of resources the BOCC has not yet been willing to devote.
“No enforcement is not an option,” said Nick Vaughn, while supporting the motion to leave the ordinance alone for now.
And a representative from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the LNT has a direct link to the county’s proposed Habitat Conservation Plan, a plan under which the county would assume a significant portion of the construction permitting currently taken up by the federal or state government.
The county and federal governments are currently on their fifth draft of the plan.
“It has been working,” said Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, of LNT. “Changing it now would be extremely detrimental for the environment … for safety.
“Let a committee look at it … We can be the model child for the state of Florida on Leave No Trace.”
As with LNT, there was early indication from the board on a direction as Commissioner Jimmy Rogers, before any public comment, motioned to repeal the ordinance.
Initially passed in 2015 and amended several times afterward, the ordinance, Hammond said, was not fully understood by the public, which was a large part of the issue.
The ordinance prohibits RVs in the coastal corridor, the boundary one mile from “open coastal waters” other than temporary permits.
However, the provisions did not take effect until January 2015; all existing property owners were “vested” or “grandfathered” in at that time.
That protection from the ordinance would be lost in the event of sale or other transfer of deed, save for a family descendant.
Hammond said of the 15,004 lots in the unincorporated areas of the county, 14,000 had not been impacted; they would operate under land development regulations that allow one RV per lot.
The county also tries its best to enforce provisions outlawing renting properties to place an RV on.
County attorney Jeremy Novak detailed the history of the ordinance, which was rejected once by the BOCC before later adoption, and said private property rights weighed heavily in discussions.
There was a reason a majority of property in the county was not impacted, he said.
Even with the ordinance, there was no outright prohibition on RVs in the coastal corridor, save for properties which have changed hands in the past nearly four years, Hammond said.
Further, there is nothing in the county’s ordinances which prohibit a house trailer, mobile home or modular home in the coastal corridor.
The major issue, a safety one, was the lack of response by RV owners to evacuate the vehicles in the event of a declared local state of emergency due to a major storm.
In his remarks, resident Ron Schaeffer, who is in the insurance field, provided a vivid demonstration of how an RV can explode or become a rolling projectile in a strong storm.
But, as written, the ordinance is unenforceable, Hammond said.
Much like with the LNT discussion, speakers almost uniformly struck a chord of urging commissioners to stand down.
Several speakers decried the growing number of pole barns and RVs in the county and their impact on the future on the county’s environment, property values and tax base.
Resident Dusty May said the decision came down to what residents the county wished to attract.
The single-family home owner or builder who pays all required fees and taxes, or the property owner who puts down a concrete slab, erects a pole barn, parks an RV and avoids significant property taxes and has less invested in the community.
Gene BeHage presented a survey conducted by a nationally-recognized company indicating support for the ordinance and its enforcement.
“You have constituents that are adamantly opposed to the repeal of this ordinance,” BeHage said. “Keep the ordinance and enforce it.”
Jennifer Corbin, a Beacon Hill resident heavily involved in the original ordinance, said repeal seemed a “colossal waste” of time and effort.
“We need to look at the things in the ordinance that don’t work and fix them,” she said. “We have to find solutions, long-term solutions for Gulf County.”
Commissioners were divided on repeal, with McCroan and Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr. dissenting.