Uncertain future for beach parking in Fernandina Beach

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 8, 2019 – 2:30 p.m.

Ruts caused by beach parking at Sadler Road Access

Based upon discussion toward the end of the March 5, 2019 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC), the future of beach parking at Seaside Park may not be assured.  Commissioners heard from city residents that “beach parking” has apparently been expanded by some to include “beach driving,” which is not allowed in the city of Fernandina Beach.

Two beachfront homeowners north of Sliders Restaurant told commissioners that vehicles routinely drive on the beach during all hours of the day and night outside their home. 

Commissioners expressed concerns that while beach parking proponents had assured the FBCC and city that the rules accompanying expanded beach parking area at Sadler Road abutting Seaside Park would be observed, that has not been the case in practice.  The city is pursuing measures to educate the public and more formally limit the hours of beach parking at the site.  However, if problems cannot be resolved, the FBCC may be forced to revisit its decision to allow limited beach parking.

City Manager Dale Martin

City Manager Dale Martin provided commissioners with recommendations from Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley, most of which are in the process of being implemented.  A key point involved the need for signage at the Seaside Park beach parking area.  There are now 3 poles limiting parking areas at the north and south ends of the lot.  Hurley also suggested doubling the fine for those driving outside the permitted parking area from $75 to $150.  The city has purchased an additional vehicle for use by the beach rangers, but Hurley noted that if the city desires to increase the hours of patrol, another vehicle will be needed.  With 2-4 part time beach rangers, the salary costs will double to $64,000 plus $6,000 for ancillary costs, such as uniforms.  Hurley also recommended matching beach closure time to those of the turtle nesting season.  There were no recommendations regarding horses on the beach.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger

Vice Mayor Len Kreger said, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m getting a whole lot more complaints about beach driving at {Seaside Park].  Something’s going on there, and ultimately we need to take a serious look at that.  I have a document from the [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] from 2008 saying we should not have any driving on the beach.  It may be time for us to look at whether we should have driving on the beach at all.”

Commissioner Chip Ross said that the two biggest problems identified by the Nassau County Beach Committee were driving on the beach and camping on the beach.  The city does not allow beach camping.  He said he generally supported Chief Hurley’s recommendations.

Commissioner Mike Lednovich added his thanks to those of Ross and Martin for taking the beach driving issue seriously and coming up with a good starting point.

City Manager Martin extended his remarks.  “One of the city’s electric third rails is beach driving.  The Chief gets several complaints.  And what’s going to happen is that too many bad people are going to ruin it.  People need to be aware of that.  Don’t give this commission or city staff reason to recommend the closure of beach [driving/parking] at Seaside Park.  It was reported to the chief last week that somebody local claimed ignorance, that they did not know they were supposed to stop driving south past the posts where they remained parked for quite some time.  It’s incidents like that which will lead the FBCC to more and more consider eliminating beach driving.  Take care of that privilege while you have it.”

Melody Winston

Beachfront homeowner Melody Winston reported that she calls police dispatch several times a week during the day and the evening about illegal driving and speeding on the beach, people backing into dunes on the beach.  “In all of the time I’ve lived on the beach, I’ve never seen one ticket written when police go out and ask these cars to move.  I feel that I cannot walk on the beach in the evenings, because more people drive then because they think they are less likely to be seen.  I think that’s dangerous.  I appeal to the commissioners to take some steps to keep a huge tragedy from happening.  I am against beach driving.”

 

 

Dr. Curt Solomon

Curt Solomon followed with additional concerns.  He said that he has lived on the beach for 20 years and also has worked as a

physician in a trauma center.  “I’ve seen what it’s like first hand for people to get run over.  I’ve seen deaths; I’ve seen paralysis.  [Beach driving] is  just not worth it; it’s a liability for the city.  Do whatever you can to stop it.  I have 3 granddaughters who love to run and play on the beach, and I would not be happy if they would be run over.  The latest trick I’ve seen — at all hours — is that because the drivers know they are not supposed to be driving, but they are too lazy to take their coolers and gear from the parking area to their chosen beach spot, so they go flying past the posted signs, drop their stuff and then fly back to the parking area.  It’s only a matter of time before something happens.”

Winston returned to the podium.  “I videotaped a lot of this activity last summer.  Every time I showed the video to the police they told me that they couldn’t use the tape.  They would talk to the [offenders], but the [offenders] would still drive back to the beach area to pick up their stuff at the end of the day.  It’s just such a huge lack of respect for the beach.  I feel like we are forced to allow this to happen, while they suffer no repercussions for their actions.  I respect the chief, and the police have been very patient with me.  But I don’t see any improvement.”

Mayor John Miller asked Martin if the city was locking the Sadler Road Beach Access (Seaside Park) at night.  Martin said that action was part of an ongoing discussion.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger said, “That’s something we should do right away.  When we closed the access for beach renourishment some people just ignored it.  I understand the chief’s concerns, because the city beach parking lot has become a parking lot for Sliders Restaurant.  But if we close it, it won’t be a problem for long.”

Commissioner Phil Chapman

Commissioner Phil Chapman recalled that when this issue came up previously the Commission Chambers were packed with people “who had been driving on the beach since they were two years old and stuff.”  Several of those people told commissioners that issues such as the ones described by Winston and Solomon “aren’t going to happen.”  Chapman emphasized, “My concern is that we are dealing with a different group of people who were raised differently.  And so I would like to extend an invitation:  all you who fought for this extra beach parking area, who said these things are not going to happen, come back to us and tell us how to fix it.”

Commissioner Ross reminded commissioners, “There is no driving on the beach.  There is parking in a certain area, but driving beyond that area is illegal.” He told speakers that he heard what they were saying and hoped that the new measures would work.

Mayor John Miller

Mayor Miller reinforced Ross’ remarks, saying, “The people need to know that there will be repercussions from violating the conditions.  There is a cause and effect here.”  Miller asked why the beach parking area is not being closed at night.  Martin replied that for a variety of reasons, it has not been a simple decision.  “We need to determine who is responsible for opening and closing the lot, how do you handle retrieving cars left after closing.  There will have to be a public information campaign, more signage.  We’ll come back with something for you.”

Miller said, “You need to know if a car has been abandoned on the beach, if there was a medical emergency.”

Kreger said, “It’s almost always that Slider’s parking causes the problems at night.  That’s not their parking lot.  The lot should be closed at night for safety reasons.”

Miller said that the Commission will be looking forward to more updates from City Manager Martin.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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3 Responses to Uncertain future for beach parking in Fernandina Beach

  1. Lily Bosch says:

    Tag, tow and fine. Don’t let a few ruin it for everyone. The city has very little time before people begin to flock to the beaches. Sliders patrons are using the parking spaces at the city park and the addition of Salt Life has their patrons taking many spots at Main Beach. Bottom line is parking for beach access is going to become scarce quickly. Not only is parking going to be a problem at the beaches I don’t think many of those staying at the soon to be constructed hotels are going to be walking downtown. I don’t see a quick solution to the growing parking problems but I think enforcement of illegal parking and dangerous driving on the beach is a first step.

  2. Gary Dutkowski says:

    Why is it that only the wealthy and well to do beach dwellers are complaining?

  3. Gary Dutkowski says:

    It’s not close to being over, not might be over, not in the future it might be over, IT’S OVER!!! Amelia island as I once knew it IS OVER! SHAME! It will never be the same

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