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Fort Walton Beach Council to consider moratorium on livery vessels

The Fort Walton Beach City Council is considering a temporary one-year moratorium on new livery vessel businesses within city limits and adjacent waterways due to concerns over boating safety and environmental […]

The Fort Walton Beach City Council is considering a temporary one-year moratorium on new livery vessel businesses within city limits and adjacent waterways due to concerns over boating safety and environmental impacts.

  • The moratorium comes in response to a rise in commercial watercraft rental operations locally. Currently there are 17 livery vessel companies pursuing or possessing active business permits in the city, according to the agenda item summary.

The ordinance proposes prohibiting the city from issuing any new development approvals, building permits or business licenses for livery vessel establishments through Sept. 30, 2024. Existing companies could continue operating under current permits but would be barred from expanding.

According to the document, the Fort Walton Beach City Council adopted regulations on livery vessels in August 2021 in response to prior community feedback over watercraft safety and upland development standards.

  • However city staff determined current oversight “may not adequately address livery vessel businesses” as their numbers increase on local waterways.

The summary cites rising risks of “dangerous boating conditions and negative impacts on the environment.” The City of Destin enacted a similar moratorium in 2019 later extended through 2023 to address concerns including waterway congestion, safety and environmental harm.

Under the proposal, Fort Walton Beach would continue evaluating potential long-term policies during the moratorium window relating to “aesthetics, socio-economic impact, quality of life for the public, tourism, and community character issues including population concentration” among other factors.

The city could exempt certain establishments from the temporary policy if owners demonstrate “substantial hardship,” defined as provable financial losses over $10,000 resulting from prior investments made based on existing regulations.

City staff advise the year-long pause on livery licensing to develop recommendations for City Council on adopting “appropriate regulations” for these businesses within municipal boundaries.

The Fort Walton Beach City Council will vote on whether to approve the proposed Ordinance 2135 enacting the livery vessel moratorium at their upcoming meeting Jan. 23 at 6pm.

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