At the May 17th Board of County Commissioners meeting the commissioners tackled two hot-button issues on Pensacola Beach. First, the commission dealt with the soon-to-expire ban on open alcohol containers in the boardwalk area of the commercial core at Pensacola Beach. There have been two one-year alcohol bans in the boardwalk area with the current ban is set to end on May 31st. To extend the ban, the commission had to make a decision at this meeting or the ban would sunset.
Commissioner Grover Robinson’s proposal was to enact one more one-year ban and then allow the commission to address a permanent ban next year. Robinson is not running for re-election this year and wanted the new District Four commissioner to bring their perspective next year.
Beach leaders including Julian McQueen, Robert Rinke and Marilyn Hess spoke in favor of enacting a permanent ban on alcohol in the boardwalk area. There were also a number of employees of beach establishments that spoke in favor of a permanent ban. No public commenters spoke against ban.
When the commissioners began debate Robinson and Commissioner Doug Underhill spoke in favor of the one-year ban. However, Commission Chairman Jeff Bergosh began his remarks by citing crime increases in the boardwalk area. Bergosh stated that the having the alcohol ban in place had not deterred crime and that it was not fair to punish responsible citizens who wanted to enjoy an alcoholic beverage on the boardwalk.
Commissioners Steven Barry and Lumon May followed Bergosh stating their intentions to allow the alcohol ban to sunset. The one-year extension of the alcohol ban was defeated by a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Robinson and Underhill voting for the ban.
The commission then took up the issue of traffic congestion and pedestrian safety on Pensacola Beach. The county has been holding a series of public meetings over the past two years to provide proposals and take public input on how to relieve traffic congestion and improve pedestrian movement during the busy tourist season.
The Volkert engineering firm had been hired by the county to develop ideas for addressing the congestion issues at the beach. Representatives from Volkert provided their latest proposal at the commission meeting. To date sixty percent of the planning work needed to be done has been funded. You can see Volkert’s PowerPoint presentation here.
The Volkert proposal calls for two traffic roundabouts; one at the intersection of Via de Luna and Ft. Pickens Rd. and one at the current entrance to the Casino Beach parking lot. The plan also calls for a pedestrian underpass that would go from the Casino Beach lot under Via de Luna to the commercial core.
There was mixed reaction from the public speakers with many of the beach residents against the roundabouts in general and some speakers concerned about the underpass flooding during extreme rainfall events. Speakers in favor of the proposal stated that increased traffic flow is needed because some visitors to our area are avoiding the beach due to the traffic glut on weekends.
After a lengthy debate by the commissioners, the commission voted 4-1 to fund the remaining forty percent of the planning and design that needs to be done on the beach congestion plan. Commissioner Steven Barry was the lone dissenting vote.