Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 9, 2019 3:37 p.m.
On Second and Final Reading at their May 7, 2019 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) unanimously adopted Ordinance 2019-09, which prohibits year round beach parking from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. The FBCC removed an amendment which would have restricted beach parking to 4-wheel drive vehicles. The Ordinance became effective immediately upon approval. Note that it applies only to actual parking on the beach at the Sadler Road Beach Access, not at designated beachfront parking lots.
Unlike previous meetings on beach issues, this meeting was sparsely attended. Only four members of the public raised objections to all or part of the proposed ordinance.
Charter Captain Scott Stewart objected to the long hours of closure and expressed concerns for handicapped people who would like to fish from the beach. He added, “There are more rules for parking on the beach today than anyone can remember. It’s ridiculous.”
Commissioners agreed with concerns about a proposed amendment that would limit beach parking to 4-wheel drive vehicles, deciding that “drive at your own risk” was a better approach. But commissioners rejected a suggestion that the hours of closure be reduced to allow people to park on the beach to watch sunrises as early as 5:00 a.m. Some speakers also expressed opposition to paid beach parking, which this ordinance did not address.
Mac Morriss, who has been a strong proponent of beach parking on behalf of the organization Citizens for the Preservation of Public Beaches, took a different tack. He presented Commissioners with a multi-page handout recapping the discussions held last year on Sadler Road Beach Parking, along with some history about the beach in that area and suggestions on how to contain beach parking to the designated area.
Morriss noted that suggestions that the city had accepted to protect both beach users and the beach itself during last year’s meetings “have been either ignored, modified, or completely changed, producing very mixed results, and a lot of confusion.”
He expressed his belief that the only way the rules governing the existing parking area on the beach can be enforced is with a full-time beach attendant, at least during peak hours. He supported funding such a position through beach parking fees. Morriss noted that for years Nassau County has required people to buy a permit to drive on the beach. “We’ve been selling these permits for decades, so this is really not new,” he said. He went on to note the additional stress on city beaches that will be brought on as new county housing developments come on line. The additional beach traffic will require more resources to monitor safety and environmental needs.
Mayor John Miller reminded speakers that the city does not permit beach driving, other than driving to a parking space at Sadler Road.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger said that the 1989 Florida Endangered Species Act prohibits driving on the beach with only a few exceptions for commercial fishing and parking. He advocated closing beach parking during Turtle Nesting Season. Her also raised later in the meeting the difficulty of providing ADA access at North Beach Park and Seaside Park because of the growth of the dunes.
He suggested that the city look at how Volusia County handles beach parking for future discussion of beach issues.
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.