During last month’s regular meeting, a deeply divided Board of County Commissioners voted to place a moratorium on permitting of any accessory structures in what the county defines as the “tourist corridor.”
The expiration date on that action turned out to be 28 days as commissioners voted Tuesday 4-1 (Commissioner Phil McCroan the lone dissent) to rescind the moratorium.
“I don’t think the moratorium should have been put in place,” said Commissioner David Rich in moving to rescind it, adding that his view was founded on the concept of property rights.
“Everybody suffered in different ways (since Hurricane Michael). Let’s allow (everybody) to recover.”
In brief, commissioners returned the entire county to rules via the land development regulations (LDRs) which limit building to one primary structure, stick-built home or RV, per parcel.
Accessory buildings, pole barns, sheds, etc. will be permitted within the tourist corridor depending on adherence to all other provisions, local, state and federal, of the building code.
The tourist corridor, as County Administrator Michael Hammond repeatedly said, was the only area impacted by the moratorium: the corridor is defined as within one mile of a line that runs from the Bay County line to WindMark and from the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula to Franklin County.
Commissioners and county staff had been inundated with complaints since the moratorium was approved last month, with several of Tuesday’s speakers noting they were halted from their rebuilding.
“Your moratorium impedes our ability to move forward,” said St. Joe Beach resident John Anglin.
Anglin had been permitted before the storm to build a pole barn on a lot Anglin owned adjacent to the property on which his home sits.
After the storm, the pole barn, in the general area of construction, took on less urgency and his permit expired.
Prepared to move personal property to the pole barn to facilitate the rebuild of his home, Anglin was denied an extension of the permit due to the moratorium.
Another property owner who spoke Tuesday encountered a similar situation when seeking permitting for an accessory building in Indian Pass.
“We have hurt some people with this moratorium,” said Commissioner Jimmy Rogers.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel said one answer would be the county’s move to “put more teeth in code enforcement.”
The county recently increased the fine and penalty schedule for code violations, including a provision that would allow, on 24-hour notice, the county turn off the power in the case of egregious cases.
Accumulations, RVs without proper hook-up, illegal accessory structures, those situations would be swept up with the increased vigilance in code enforcement.
“We have to live and let live,” McDaniel said. “I am all for property rights.”
At times during the lengthy discussion, which consumed more than a third of the three-hour meeting, concerned two distinct issues: the moratorium seeping into broader round in a long-running debate over RVs.
The RV issue, in particular, is growing in the county since Michael and prior to Michael the BOCC had taken two full swings in recent years at an ordinance restricting RVs along the coast and struck out.
And supporters of a tighter rein on RVs were not positive rescinding the moratorium on accessory structures in the tourist corridor was the right direction.
“We need an ordinance in place (for RVs),” said Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of South Gulf County, which has lobbied the BOCC for years to enact an RV ordinance.
“We should not throw the baby out with the bath water. There are safety issues. We need an RV ordinance in the tourist corridor.”
Several other residents of the Cape echoed those comments, noting that RVs depreciate land values, constrain the tax base and do not aesthetically fit along the tourist corridor.
Further, several residents of the Simmons Bayou area voiced concern about the number of RVs either currently on the ground or planned for the future.
Given that State/County 30A is the only evacuation route available in South Gulf County, the prevalence of RVs was a safety issue beyond any concern about property values.
“We have to maintain the evacuation route,” said resident Kim Miller. “If (it becomes blocked due to the number of RVs) what evacuation route would you have us take?”
Hammond said staff was simply seeking clear direction while noting the moratorium was selective.
“If we are going to have an ordinance make it countywide, not for a select few people” Hammond said. “We need some consistency. We need to make a rule and stick with it.”