OPINION: Time to Cleanup and Fairly Enforce County’s Municipal Code

Posted on July 11, 2023 by EDITORIAL BOARD

Santa Rosa County’s Municipal Code is a group of ordinances used for governing, and some of the ordinances not only need revisions but also enforcement.

An effort is already underway to revise the county’s Land Development Code, commonly referred to as the LDC, the governing document which guides development and was last revised in 2021.

LDC revisions are a huge task, and we applaud District 3 Commissioner James Calkins for supporting a cost analysis for proposed changes during yesterday’s LDC workshop. We’ve seen the costly, far-reaching ramifications of the 2021 rewrite, which added a requirement for storm water runoff plans for new construction south of Yellow River in existing long-time subdivisions, such as Holley By the Sea. That one change resulted in a $3,000-5,000 engineering plan per new home, a cost which gets passed along to the homeowner.

The revisions don’t need to stop with the LDC. We also need to update Ordinance 94-19 that governs “designated swimming areas,” which restrict other activities within those zones for eight months out of each year (tourist season).

Current code allows county staff to unilaterally impose designated swimming area restrictions without board approval or public input. Staff should not have that much power. It wasn’t a problem under long-time Beach Supervisor Terry Wallace, an experienced, avid fisherman. But when Wallace retired, part of his responsibilities were turned over to Tourist Development Director Julie White, who is originally from Michigan and has little to no understanding of the local fishing community. 

“We’re going to prohibit shark fishing west of the kayak launch,” White stated in an email to County Administrators via email. Staff had already designed and ordered related signage to impose those restrictions before a whistleblower revealed the plan, which was crafted behind closed doors. Thankfully, county commissioners on Monday stepped in to stop staff from moving forward after outcry from the fishing community.

Additionally, Ord. 94-19 states watercraft, surfboards and similar objects may not be used nor carried into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico within designated swimming areas. That means locals and visitors are unknowingly violating an ordinance every time they use the county’s kayak launch located on the east end of Navarre Beach, a designated swimming area. Technically, they could be fined $500 or spend 60 days in jail for taking kayaks and surfboards out to the nearshore snorkeling reef.

Common sense says that someone wouldn’t be cited for using a kayak at the kayak launch, but we’ve seen selective enforcement before. Just ask Eric Vines, owner of Cellular Nerd. County Code Enforcement seemed to target him for using feather flags.
Meanwhile, a business on Gulf Boulevard, Andy D’s, is basically giving a middle finger to county codes by littering the public right of way with multiple feather flags, parking two unpermitted vendor trailers in the parking lot and adding what appears to be an illegal mural.

The county waged a full-on war with Cellular Nerd, but they’re seemingly turning a blind eye to code violations over at Andy D’s.

So we not only have codes which need updating but also the good codes we already have on the books aren’t even being fairly enforced.

Tidy up, Santa Rosa!