And jet ski and parasail business operators are none to happy about that. On Monday the town council will hold a second public hearing aimed at tightening up an ordinance their own staff admits they have not been enforcing for years.
Opening up the ordinance for review started when councilman Jim Atterholdt conferred with former Mayor Anita Cereceda about whether TPI, the Margaritaville developer, was promised they would be able to “self perform” the jet ski and parasail businesses during the extensive negotiations years ago. Negotiations that included density, number of rooms, where restaurants would go, parking, etc. Negotiations that included TPI handing over a parking lot, post-construction, that would net the town hundreds of thousands of dollars. Negotiations that included granting the public beach access on TPI’s property. Negotiations that included giving the town additional concessions that most developers might walk away from if they planned to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a project. Both Atterholt and Cereceda agree that TPI was made a promise they could self perform those businesses.
Why is this such a big deal?
To operate a jet ski or parasail business you need to apply for a license from the town. As the ordinance is written now, there are no available licenses because the town has capped the number of licenses available. There’s a low likelihood that a license would come available. The current group of owners has owned them for decades and has no plans to relinquish them. They can, and have, sold them, along with their business, which they can do without involving the town in the process.
Apparently TPI and the current operator who rents the property on the beach in front of the future resort have been unable to work out a financial arrangement that makes both sides happy.
TPI believes they should be able to operate their own business on their own property. The vendors say the ordinance says there’s a cap on the number of licenses and the town should follow their own ordinance. There’s one big problem with that. The town staff openly admitted it’s not enforcing any of the ordinance.
Community Services Administrator Daphne Saunders said at a council meeting that the town is not enforcing any part of the ordinance now on the books. “I would say offhand there are a lot of violations that are happening right now, not to any specific thing but within this ordinance as it is written.” Saunders could not even answer the question about whether the operators were staying within the number of machines they were allowed to operate on the beach. “I’ve never gone out on the beach and said 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8.”
Saunders’ admission that the town is not enforcing the ordinance in any way must have other beach businesses, who are constantly being visited by code enforcement, scratching their heads. Especially when the number one reason this ordinance was passed was to protect the public from injury and death. At a recent council meeting, on the topic of code enforcement, the town council made it clear they wanted staff to be more aggressive when public safety was involved. That discussion was not related to this issue.
Another issue that has come to light is that there’s one license that an operator has just been squatting on. There’s no business operating on the beach under that license. The council does not like that one bit and new language in the ordinance addresses that, reverting any dormant license back to the town after a certain amount of time. Right now, a dormant license can be renewed and kept by an operator and the business never has to open. The town simply looks the other way. It’s also important to note that five licenses are owned by one person.
The town adopted the ordinance to cap licenses under the guise of safety. It was crazy decades ago when anyone and everyone was puling up with their jet ski operation and renting them out. People were getting injured and killed and the ordinance helped keep away the out-of-town operators looking to make a fast buck.
However, when the ordinance was passed, capping the licenses, and requiring operators be 500 feet apart, they grandfathered in a number of the operators, voiding the 500 foot requirement for several. Most of them operate in the downtown area which is where the big crowds gather.
The ordinance change would allow an operator with a valid Commercial Planned Development, which TPI has, to apply for a license and self-operate. It would not take away any license from a current operator. In fact, the operator at the future Margaritaville location has already told others he can move his operation to Diamondhead if he needs to.
All indications have been that the ordinance will be revised by a 4-1 vote.