Some time ago I wrote a glowing review of the kitschy little beachside business district along Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach.
The six blocks between the river and the beach has blossomed into the perfect example of how to turn older buildings into an attractive and fun place for visitors. I congratulated the city on its apparent easing on codes to allow business owners to create the many interesting shops and eateries there. I compared it to places like Key West and Cedar Key, and thought that the great job done by New Smyrna Beach could serve as a model for other communities.
Now, I am aghast at the news the city will soon begin to charge for parking on public lots near the beach. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. First they were thinking about charging boaters to launch at the city ramps and now this? Unbelievable.
On Jan. 28, the City Commission voted 3-2 to purchase kiosks and pay staff to charge $5 a day to park. With the same fee being charged to park on the beach that means few will be able to go to the beach or Flagler Avenue without coughing up.
The fact they are proposing to allow locals to buy a $10 annual pass is not much help. Look, I can afford to pay five bucks to park, but I never will. I have never paid to park on any Volusia County beach for it is a matter of principle to me. I am not alone in that resolve. You know the Daytona Beach tourist area made that same mistake with the beautiful, upscale shops at Ocean Walk. They ended all nearby parking on the beach and insisted you pay to park in the big garage west of A1A. Whenever I have gone to Ocean Walk, I have parked illegally and hoped my car would still be there upon my return. Obviously, I don't go often. It's no wonder those great little shops are struggling financially. I hope Flagler Avenue does not suffer the same fate.
To continue the run of bad ideas, New Smyrna Beach will also begin stricter enforcement of the two-hour parking rule on city streets near the beach. Great, create a fee and then try to herd people into the lots so they will pay. Instead of charging fees New Smyrna Beach could extend the great success of Flagler Avenue by pushing for a free and open beach. With plenty of free parking the entire beachside might come alive.
Since I wrote that column about Flagler Avenue, many visitors and locals have thanked me for alerting them to such a nice old Florida type getaway. Now I am afraid I am writing the obituary. Perhaps premature, but an obituary nonetheless. What a shame. I have a hard time believing the business owners there stood by and allowed this to happen. What were you thinking?
If I seem mad -- well you're right. Whenever the right to our beach is held for ransom I do get mad. This one is especially disturbing for Lana and I fell in love with the funky little shops of Flagler Avenue. We won't be back.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.