City of Fernandina's Main Beach Park
Beaches,  Marketplace,  Summer

Should People Pay To Park At The Beach?

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.

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A Sign Of The Times

Fernandina Beach seems to have as many street signs as mosquitoes. You can spray away the mosquitoes, but metal signs are harder to eradicate (and they are rapidly multiplying).

Signs in the city are everywhere, ubiquitous. There are signs practically reminding you to read the other signs. In some places, there are so many signs in succession that an Evelyn Wood speed reader could not comprehend them.

However, there is one sign you don’t or won’t see in the Fernandina Beach city limits. It’s a sign telling you to pay to park.

Main Beach Signs, City of Fernandina Beach
Main Beach Signs, City of Fernandina Beach

The city has never charged for parking in downtown or at the beach (in recent memory, at least). However, paid parking has been on the table before. This time it has taken a seat at the table over the dalliance of a new revenue stream for the city. It’s apparently a sign of the times.

Charge To Park At The Beach?

Certain arguments make sense about charging to park at or on the beaches (not for residents, however). Some contend visitors should pay to use the beaches – since residents pay taxes to clean them and repair them and monitor them.

Downtown parking fees are harder to justify. We want to draw visitors to downtown, like curious moths to a light. It’s good for business. The competition outside of town is getting keener, in case you just washed ashore and didn’t have time to notice.

More people are coming to the island than ever before as growth surges in Yulee and tourism rages. So more visitors will use our beaches. And taxpayers must shoulder mounting maintenance costs.

The new bike path has provided a new route for excessive signage. It runs through Fernandina Beach and onto the south end of the island, where signs are limited and attractively blended with the terrain.

The south end has consciously avoided rampant signage. Signs, while necessary, can litter the roadways, the landscape. Motorists here must slow down, impeding traffic, to read all the signs.

So we really need fewer signs. Now enters a new world of signs commanding a fee to park at the beaches or on them. City officials are not reticent about their intention – it’s to raise revenues to defray costs of maintaining the beaches as usage increases.

This sounds reasonable, except when you realize the city’s property tax receipts have increased by 50 percent over the past six years. This is due to property values exploding and generating more revenues. Meanwhile, the population of the city has grown, but not to this degree.

Public Beach Access: City of Fernandina's North Beach Park
Public Beach Access: City of Fernandina’s North Beach Park

City Beach Parks

City officials have already designated a “Beach Committee” to recommend how to handle beach parking. There are 900 parking spaces associated with the city beaches. The main parking lots are at Main Beach, North Beach and Seaside Park (near Slider’s Restaurant). The rest are spread between the smaller beach-access points.

The feeling right now is that the paid-parking scheme could begin at these three main lots, including cars parked on the beach. The beach access lots could be added to the list later.

In addition, city officials are talking about charging everyone to park – even residents. The parking fees would be uniform in that sense. This may not fly with locals used to accessing the beaches without cost or interference.

The “Beach Committee” will bring its final recommendations to the city commission on Oct. 31. It’ll be a true test for city commissioners to sign off on such a controversial plan – that again impacts our beach access. And adds to the signage.
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Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor for a regional U.S. firm who lives on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His business columns also appear in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his personal website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book of his favorite columns from the last 20 years, “All About Money.” The book is available in local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]