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Guest Opinion

Parking/House Rules

The DeFuniak Springs Herald of DeFuniak Springs, Florida

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Editorial Comment

The Oct. 27 meeting of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) witnessed some straight talk. A proposed ordinance was brought before the BCC, governing that perennial Walton County bete noire, parking. The meeting saw only an initial review, more like a preview, prior to later official review and public hearings.

Herald — Breeze reporter Dotty Nist, who covered the Oct. 27 meeting, noted in her characteristically understated way, "Even at this preliminary stage, the ordinance drew a good deal of public comment."

Interestingly, it was noted at the meeting that the draft being reviewed was a "pared down" version of an earlier version from several years back. That version had not been approved. As for this one.....

The current ordinance under review reportedly covers parking at residential lots under 1/2 an acre in size, parking associated with outdoor seating at restaurants, and joint parking agreements that have BCC approval. Mind, this is the pared-down version.

Current parking rules (per the Land Development Code) are keyed to number of bedrooms — which suggests family residences — not lot size. Basing the rules on lot size suggests something else, say, rentals.

Public comment ranged far and wide, from safety to enforceability of parking tickets to the profoundly complex question of fairness of applicability countywide. Any well-drafted ordinance (or other form of law) tries to be as inclusive and detailed as possible. If public comment at the BCC meeting is any indication, it will be necessary to honeycomb the ordinance with exemptions to accommodate a host of different and not always harmonious interests. As well, there will be the question of whether or not to make it retroactive. This is just an ordinance, remember.

Commissioner Cindy Meadows made an important statement when she noted that her own south Walton neighborhood has gone from mostly full-time to mostly short-term rentals, with only a few part-time residents. Talking about parking, an attendee observed "It is a tourist problem....It's not a residential problem." Meadows hit the roofing nail on the head when she said, "I think we need to face the realization that south Walton is becoming a resort rental place." I don't know if anyone gasped when she said it, but a few probably considered gasping.

In the end, the BCC gave county staff the task of drafting an ordinance incorporating as many of the suggestions and concerns expressed as possible. Talk about a homework assignment.

It's worthwhile remembering that the Tourist Development Council (TDC), whose job has traditionally been to market the "brand" and attract visitors, is being examined with an eye toward possible reorganization. That matter has been postponed until the beginning of the new year.

If we are coming to the conclusion that south Walton is not primarily a residential area, but a sort of tourist republic, then anything having to do with tourism — especially parking ordinances-would involve the TDC, and bear on whatever possible new form it takes.

Are we talking about more, or less, responsibility and authority? And what impact will this have on the issue of possible incorporation? The year 2016 promises to be full of government activity.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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