Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 18, 2018 – 4:47 p.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) finally passed Ordinance 2018-02 on Third and Final Reading at the FBCC’s April 18, 2018 Regular Meeting. But the ordinance that passed was a far cry from what was originally proposed. What began earlier this year as a relatively simple (but controversial) ordinance that proposed to codify/restrict the beach parking area at Fernandina Beach’s Sadler Road Beach Access to 300 feet, morphed into a more encompassing beach ordinance, addressing many issues relating to beach use, safety and access. And, probably most important to those promoting increased access, the beach parking area, although shifted slightly to the north, will remain at the 600 feet codified in prior years as opposed to the 300 feet that it had shrunk to over time.
The prime mover behind this omnibus ordinance was Commissioner Chip Ross. Ross, who early on expressed his personal belief that there should be no cars on the beach, acknowledged that beach driving and parking are part of the local culture and value system for many people who have deep roots in the community. On his own, he proposed an alternative ordinance that would address those concerns, while also addressing environmental concerns and safety issues that have been of concern to the city’s Ocean Rescue Unit.
Many citizens provided input at the First Reading of the ordinance on February 6, 2018. As a result of this meeting, Ross began his efforts to fashion an ordinance that would address many of the public’s concerns as well as general beach safety concerns.
He met with many groups and individuals before crafting this alternative ordinance, including Citizens for the Preservation of Public Beaches and the personnel of the city’s Ocean Rescue Unit. What he unveiled at the Second Reading on March 20, 2018 was a series of changes to existing city codes that would affect the entire city beach area, not limited to the Sadler Road Beach Access.
One of these changes proposed relocating the Sadler Road Beach Parking area to the north, meaning that reverting to the 600 foot parking area (legally authorized even though not currently implemented) could be done without interfering with privately owned residential areas. Many other changes are included in the approved ordinance, ranging from requiring dog owners to remove their animals’ waste from the beach to prohibiting open fires on the beach.
But the largest number of changes concern making the beaches safer for swimmers and sunbathers. The large list of “thou shalt not’s” is accompanied by penalties for those who choose to ignore the new rules, which the Ocean Rescue Unit has the authority to enforce. For a more complete listing of new rules and changes, click here.
Although the FBCC spent almost an hour taking more public input and deciding on additional possible revisions, the ordinance remained largely the same, except for minor revisions and clarifications.
An exception was commission discussion of prohibiting beach parking between the hours of sunset and 9:00 a.m. Initially this limit was to be applied only during turtle nesting season. But there seemed to be a consensus among commissioners that the limit should apply year round in the interests of public safety. This change was not included in the ordinance per se, but was provided as direction to the City Manager.
In response to some of the public comments, Vice Mayor Len Kreger appeared to object to various limits proposed in the new ordinance. Kreger said that any prohibition in the ordinance – such as using inflatable rafts that do not have a rope handle – is subject to enforcement. He believed that there were too many items like this that could either cause lifeguards to spend too much time on enforcement or subject the guards to charges of discretionary enforcement.
Fernandina Beach Fire Chief Ty Silcox, who oversees the Ocean Rescue Unit, did not agree. He indicated that the suggested changes were modeled after ordinances in the county and other beach communities and that they were proposed to be used when needed to ensure public safety.
It was the consensus of the FBCC to support Silcox and leave the items in the ordinance.
Commissioners also reaffirmed that the changes would not adversely impact surfers.
Lowell Hall, the last of the five speakers, used his time to thank all the people who had worked on putting this compromise together. Hall, who as founder and president of Citizens for the Preservation of Public Beaches, has spent years working to ensure broad public access to beaches. He thanked commissioners individually. When he came to Commissioner Chip Ross, Hall said, “He was the Commission point man for the compromise. His git-‘er-done attitude and determination brought this beach compromise to reality.” He also thanked city staff and the Board of his organization.
Hall concluded his remarks, “Now the Citizens for the Preservation of Public Beaches ask for your continued support on all public beach issues, beach access and management plans. We’ve just gotten to the point where we can really start deciding what needs to be done—not just with the rules, but with the management of the cars and people on the beach. And a revenue source for the expenses that are going to be incurred if we properly maintain and supervise not only the on beach parking areas at Sadler Road but the entire beach. We ask for your unanimous approval of Ordinance 2018-02–the compromise—as written with minor modifications.”
The motion passed on a unanimous vote. It becomes effective immediately and work is already underway to implement changes before the beach season begins.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.