PANAMA CITY — It’s not smooth sailing near the boat ramps in Panama City right now.
City commissioners gave first reading Tuesday to an ordinance targeting commercial boat landings that drew mixed reactions from business owners.
Ordinance 3082 aims to regulate commercial boating at city boat ramps and parks by requiring commercial vendors to obtain a permit to use a boat ramp or public area.
Commissioners, who said they wanted to fix the ordinance, voted to delay the second reading until they hold a workshop with residents and boat owners until Aug. 9. When stumped, commissioners said they would post the workshop date on the city’s website and on Facebook.
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The proposed ordinance comes three months after Bay County implemented a similar ordinance.
City officials said Carl Gray Park at the eastern base of the Hathaway Bridge has had the most problems with unlicensed commercial businesses.
Business owners, residents speak out
However, Panama City residents who operate businesses near the boat ramps said they believe the ordinance is “too vague” and will leave them struggling during the busiest season.
Lynn Schneider said her concern has to do with events that are held next to the ramps, such as fitness classes, and whether the ordinance requires those businesses to obtain a permit as well. If it does, the city would have to have a permit system in place before changing the ordinance, Schneider said.
“All of this falls into commercial activity, and if it gets to law enforcement like that … somebody’s going to get a ticket for something, I don’t think that’s the extent of it,” Schneider said.
She also said city officials should consider passing the ordinance later, such as after Labor Day, to reduce the strain on businesses. Other residents said the ordinance should be implemented after the city completes its marina projects in downtown Panama City and St. Andrews.
But other residents said the ordinance was the right thing to do, with James Peek even asking city officials to step up.
“I would like you to make every commercial vessel operating in the marinas show proof of insurance and buy a license from the city to use the launches,” Peek said. Some boatmen “are not legal guides or legal captains. They are operating illegally…”
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After hearing from residents, city officials also said the ordinance is confusing and missing pieces.
Commissioner Jenna Flint Halligas said the language was vague, from not having a list of parks to not mentioning how to get a permit.
Commissioner Joshua Street, who represents St. Andrews, said he heard feedback from both sides. He said officials are trying to find a balance so that commerce can take place and residents can enjoy the parks.
“There are a lot of people who are excited about the activity that the charter fishermen bring, the additional traffic … a lot of the retailers that are in St. Andrews right on the coast like that,” Street said. “But there are also so many people trying to use the parks that there can be parking spaces for 12, 14 hours a day.”
City Manager Mark McQueen said residents are the ones paying for the boat ramps.
He said unlicensed businesses taking advantage of the boat ramps were in direct competition with established businesses, which he said was “fundamentally wrong”.
“(Our) goal is to have 10 (boat ramps) throughout the city, we want to have access to the bay, we want to have access to the water activities,” McQueen said. “We want to have thriving businesses. One of the… four principles we have for the City of Panama City and our rebuilding efforts to be the leading city in the Panhandle is our economy. We want thriving, legitimate empowered businesses to take up space.”
Mayor Greg Brudnicki said he hopes significant adjustments will be made to the workshop ordinance.
“There are valid points and that’s why we’re going to have a workshop, that way we can look at all of these issues … remember there were people here today who are probably licensed, people who are reasonable, people who are not renegades,” , Brudnicki said. “Some of them didn’t show up, I’m sure, because they’re able to do business at a lower cost than the people who were here today and those who pay all the fees.”