Walton County officials adjust beach rules for upcoming season

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SOUTH WALTON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The next official beach season is just a couple months away, and Walton County beach management officials are making sure they, along with everyone else, are clear when it comes to beach rules.

"The main goal is to make the beach fair, or harmonious for all the users," Walton County Director of Beach Management Brian Kellenberger said.

That's why Tuesday, county commissioners held a special meeting to clarify what is and is not allowed on the beach.

One of the main topics of discussion: size limits on beach tents.

"Last year we passed a code that prohibited any tents larger than six by six by six," Kellenberger explained. "The reasoning was, the data we had received over the course of last year revealed that the general public didn't like the pop-up style tents. So, we made an effort to prohibit those types of the tents."

He said they didn't want to preclude families with young children or anyone else who wanted wind or sun shade, and since many found it difficult to comply with ordinance, they decided to amend it.

"We learned throughout the year that a lot of beach goers liked to be able to use the pop-up style tent and so a lot of the revisions today made that max size a 10 by 10 pop-up style tent as well as mandated that they be used on the top 1/3 of the beach," Kellenberger said.

Beach vendor responsibilities and designated areas were also a concern for many as room on the beach seems to get smaller and smaller each season.

"Vendors are a big issue on our beach, very large industry," Kellenberger said. "They do provide a very valuable service to the visitors that come to our beach and for the last three or four years, we've looked at the code that regulated vending very closely. We take the data that we compile throughout the year, which is our code enforcement data, complaints we receive and then we have a couple of advisory committees that offer up recommendations for code change."

Appropriate time frames for beach bonfire clean-up was also clarified, marking 1 a.m. the limit.

"Currently, the way the current ordinance is, the bonfire permit is good for 24 hours, so technically you could get a bonfire at four in the afternoon and keep in on the beach until four the next day and we just didn't think that was very safe, so we changed it to eight and after doing a survey with a lot of our vendors, most of them are off the beach anyways between 10 and midnight, and we just though by eliminating them off the beach by one, that would eliminate any leftover bonfires that are still hot in the morning," South Walton Fire District Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez said.

This topic also spun into discussion over cooking or grilling on the beach.

"Historically, there has never been any language in county ordinance that dictates whether you can cook or cannot cook on the beach, particularly grilling," said Sanchez. "A lot of times what happens is people come down here, they're new to the area, they're vacationing and if they think they are going to grill on the beach they are going to bring a rather large grill with them."

Although many who spoke to commissioners were against grilling, the board compromised by limiting it to only gas grills that are approximately to 12 by 18 inches.

"So, I think by reducing the size, limiting the size, it will help code enforcement, TDC code enforcement by being able to monitor that and have some guidance as well. And at the same time it will help the customer know they know what they can and cannot do," Sanchez added.

"I would expect in the next couple of years moving forward that we would let the codes that we have now revised and adopted play out and see how they work. All the ordinance and verbiage changes went in to effect [Tuesday]," Kellenberger said.

Officials said the new rules go in place immediately and say they'll update the beach signs as soon as possible.