Parking Steps from the Sand

Somewhere in the evolution of transportation, golf carts left the golf course and became the vehicle of choice for short neighborhood trips. They’re not just for senior citizens tooling around exclusive enclosed communities. Some people are taking them to the beach.

Jason Lee uses his golf cart three to four times a week.

“A lot of people are getting into them,” Lee said. “It’s easier to jump in the golf cart, get kids to the beach and go to social gatherings. It’s beach living.”

Last summer, tensions rose between golf cart owners and residents who did not want special parking for low-speed vehicles (LSVs) in South Jacksonville Beach.

Longtime Jacksonville Beach resident Thad Moseley led the opposition and gathered more than 200 signatures to keep the street ends as pedestrian beach accesses without motorized vehicle parking. The petition was labeled “For Everybody’s Enjoyment — Not Ocean Front Parking for the Few.”

“Some of us sat down and discussed why it wasn’t a good idea,” Moseley said. The petition asked for no motorized vehicle parking at the 30th, 34th and 37th avenue accesses.

Moseley recalled two years ago when he saw a half-dozen golf carts parked by the access he uses most often at 34th Avenue South.

“That was a difference of one to none from the year before,” Moseley said. “They would park in no motorized vehicle parking zones.”

In March, Jacksonville Beach City Council approved the addition of an LSV pilot parking program in a 5-2 vote. The spaces were installed in April.

Darrell Griswold signed the petition; he’s a full-time caretaker of his son who is confined to a wheelchair. Griswold previously launched a petition that helped pave a walkway for his son at the 37th Avenue South beach access.

As a transplant from Washington, D.C., Griswold enjoys the beach only once in a while and knows the attraction it has. He said he wants everyone to enjoy the beach, but he has one major concern about LSV beach-access parking.

“The only thing I’m against is them parking on the walkway path so that handicap vehicles cannot get to the beach,” Griswold said. “Statistically, I don’t see how they are going to police it.”

Sgt. Thomas Crumley of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department said officers will keep an eye on the spaces in coordination with Citizens On Patrol.

“We are planning to monitor the LSV parking spaces throughout the summer by utilizing the C.O.P. unit to check these spaces each shift they are assigned,” Crumley said. “Officers on duty will also be monitoring the spaces as well.”

JoDee Evans, one of Moseley’s neighbors, was against installing the spaces but said the city allowed the community to be heard.

“There were five to six meetings held by City Council,” Evans said. “Both sides, police and council members all had the opportunity to voice their opinion.”

The parking spaces were set by City Manager George Forbes after Moseley sent in his research for locations near the beach.

There are 21 parking spaces at eight locations: two each at Sixth Avenue North, 16th Avenue North and the Pier lot; three spaces at 16th Avenue South; five spaces each at First Avenue South and 12th Avenue South; and one space each at 32nd Avenue South and 36th Avenue South.

“George Forbes very smartly converted a couple of surplus spaces near the tennis courts at 16th Avenue South into LSV parking,” Moseley said. “The rest were all added.”

Each parking spot cost the city $100 to $160 for spacing, paint and labor. The spaces are within 50 feet or less of the accesses.

Lee Lockett participated in an email thread with Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham to voice the point of view of golf cart owners.

“I’ve stayed in touch with their arguments,” Lockett said. “They have safety concerns with parking on the walkway, but I’m not aware of anyone being hit by the golf carts.”

The pilot program will run until November, when the city will decide whether to add more spaces or keep the current number. Crumley said the spaces have not seen heavy amounts of use.

Latham took office last November, in the midst of the controversy that was being pushed by then-Mayor Fland Sharp.

While the mayor and his staff worked through resolving the issue, Jacksonville Beach Police Commander Steve Corbett offered his services as a mediator between the residents and his higher-ups.

“I met with both sides on the issue and discussed their concerns and wishes,” Corbett said. “I then provided this information to my chain of command.”

Corbett added that he has no opinion on the matter and that it is up to City Council to set the direction for the city.

With the issue resolved legally, the golf carting culture will be something to look for in the future.

Lockett said LSVs are a practical way to get around, and a better choice for the environment.

“It saves gas when you can use a golf cart,” Lockett said. “I don’t really understand the opposition.”

LSVs pose little inconvenience to cars when driving on First and Second streets — with the capability to go the same speed as actual cars, some are able to reach upwards of 40 mph.

Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette has seen no problems with LSVs. Atlantic Beach Mayor Mike Borno said he knows of no issues with LSV parking.

Moseley, who started the petition, said it’s a matter of fairness for everyone who wants to access the beach.

“I own a golf cart, but I’ve never thought about wanting to park it where no one else can,” Moseley said. “The priority was not to put them oceanfront, but to make it convenient for them.”

In the meantime, LSV owners will have to show that they are using the spaces and continue making a case for their desired parking.

“I’ve seen the spaces laid out at First and Second streets, but they’re not very useful,” Lockett said. “The real desire is to use the grassy areas where the beach accesses are.”