Legislating Leisure – Say Hello to the Fun Police

By Zach Garretson

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 6.09.35 PMDestin, Florida is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.  Every year spring breakers flock to the beautiful beaches to enjoy the crystal clear water.  At the center of the Destin inlet lies a sand bar affectionately known as Crab Island.  Almost every day on your drive into Destin, you can see countless boats anchored around the sand bar.  It is a wonderful site, people throwing footballs, music playing (not too loud), people enjoying the beautiful Florida weather.  There are several ‘food barges’ that provide meals and drinks to customers of Crab Island, as well as many smaller merchants who sell hot dogs from row boats.

Just like anything else that is popular and prosperous, the local government is trying to exercise its authority.  From the Destin City Council, to Florida State Representatives, politicians are trying to dictate how people have fun, while ensuring to get their cut of the profits.  In January of 2015, Representative Matt Gaetz held a town hall meeting to discuss how to control the activities on Crab Island.  The basic tone of the meeting was that there was concern for people engaging in lewd behavior at Crab Island.  Gaetz, who is now running for U.S. Congress in District One, along with Destin City Councilmen Prebble Ramswell, wanted to control the morality of people drinking and having a good time.

526397037_1280x720Over the last year, the Destin City Council has put Crab Island directly in its sights.  Most recently, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Board discussed proposing additional taxes on vendors who rent boats to be used at Crab Island, as well as more stringent licensing requirements for food and beverage vendors.

The CRA has recommended a requirement for businesses to purchase ‘medallions’ for every vessel that they rent.  The proposed cost per medallion is $500.  This will essentially kill off any competition from small start ups in the area.  Ed Rogers, who has owned a rental business (Sunshine Water Sports) since 2009, went to the meeting to encourage the new tax.  He complained that his competition has more then doubled since he opened his doors, with many of his rivals not having permanent locations.  Essentially, he is asking the government to limit his competition moving forward.  CRA Board Member Chatham Morgan is proposing a $500 per day fine for businesses who do not comply with these restrictions.

“I’m not against this industry,” he said. “I’m for doing it the right way… These people, we’ve given them an inch, and they’ve taken a mile.”

Furthermore; the CRA is attempting to crack down on food vendors that serve Crab Island.  The CRA is proposing a six-month moratorium on new food permits for the area.  That six months will be used to develop new licenses, restrictions and fines for food vendors of the popular get away.  This will effectively stop any and all economic growth, and restrict the ability for small businesses to succeed and thrive under new regulations.  Consumers on Crab Island should not have their options limited like this, and small businesses should be allowed to thrive, not worry about how they will be further regulated.

These new restrictions have not been put in place yet, so there is still time to let the Destin CRA know that this power grab is unacceptable.  A full list of email addresses for the board members is available on the Destin CRA website.  Let them know that you do not want to see more government restrictions on Crab Island.  This is essential for not only the local population who enjoy Crab Island, but also the small business owners who make their living from it, and tourists who come to enjoy it.

 

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