Kiosks installed at GSP’s four beach parking lots; City hopes to negotiate free parking for Orange Beach residents
By John Mullen
The biggest topic of discussion at the recent combo regular and work sessions by the Orange Beach City Council wasn’t even on an agenda.
Council members and Mayor Tony Kennon have received multiple inquiries about pay parking kiosks going in at four state beach access points in the city.
“Gulf State Park is preparing to implement parking kiosks at four beach access points: Romar Beach, Cotton Bayou, Alabama Point and the Shell Lot,” a news release from the park states. “Park administration will continue discussions that began fall 2020 with City of Orange Beach officials to define the details of the parking plan.”
Kennon said he and others were taken by surprise when they heard reports of the kiosks going up at the access points.
“It caught us off guard,” Kennon said. “We didn’t necessarily know it was coming. Years ago, the state had mentioned that they were talking about or thinking about charging people to park but that was years ago.”
The mayor said he heard there was grant money available for the park’s use that had to be spent in 2020.
“From what I understand they came into some COVID or CARE Act federal money and it had to be spent by the end of the year so they bought these,” Kennon said. “We are hopefully going to meet with them in the next two weeks.”
That meeting is tentatively set for Jan. 21 and Kennon hopes the result is free parking will continue for city residents. How that will work remains to be worked out.
“I expect all Orange Beach residents to be free,” Kennon said. “It is state property so it’s their decision to make on what they do there. But for me and for all we do for the state – and they do appreciate all that we do with the state park – I expect our residents will have free use of the beach and the parking lots.”
There was no mention of how much the fees would be or any mention of Orange Beach citizens in the short release from Gulf State Park.
“Implementation of the parking kiosks will not begin until staffing, training and trials of the system are conducted,” the release states. “Gulf State Park hopes to share final information on the plan by March 1, 2021 via its website and social media.”
City Administrator Ken Grimes said the state is still ironing out details of the plan which includes learning how the kiosks will operate.
“All of that is going to be discussed but this technology is still unknown to them as to what they can do,” Grimes said. “It may be different than the whole way of checking cars. We are definitely going to discuss reimbursement for certain services. The fee will not go into place until closer to spring break. Hopefully, they’ll cover (the kiosks) so that it can be known yes, they are installed but they are not active now.”
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Orange Beach City Council…
Grimes said this does not apply to state boat ramps or Backcountry Trail access points.
This will have no effect on the city’s plan to develop a parking lot and restaurant business on 800 feet of Gulf-front between Summerchase condos on the east and the Hampton Inn on the west.
“It’s not defined or refined exactly how it’s going to work,” Kennon said. “There will be some availability for residents on 100 spaces at no charge. Then there will be availability for residents beyond the 100 throughout the year but it will be at a charge unless you buy something at the restaurant and with the receipt that parking would be validated for that timeframe.”
The city is buying the westernmost 400 feet of Gulf front and the restaurant would be on the eastern portion.
“We think because of working with the restaurant whose busy times will probably be after five and hopefully ours will be before five or sundown so we can work out an acceptable tradeoff,” Kennon said. “In return for shared parking, we get shared use of 400 feet of beach so now we have 800 for essentially the price of 400. We think it’s going to really be a good deal.”
Gulf Shores has about 400 paid parking spaces at three beach accesses owned by the city. They are at Gulf Place, West Sixth Street and at Little Lagoon Pass.
“Those are locations that are beachside premium parking and have a restroom facility to service them,” Director of Parks and Recreation Grant Brown said. “Which is why we also felt that was a good trade back. If somebody wants to have a little bit more amenity, they can pay a small fee to park their car for convenience and then use that beach side instead of walking across the street where it’s free.”
The city recently developed East Gulf Place and initially charged for parking there, too. Last year the council voted to make East Gulf Place available to city residents only using a hurricane pass to park there.
Gulf Shores charges $5 for four hours or $10 for an all-day pass from March 1 through Nov. 30. There are no parking fees in December, January and February.
During the regular session, the council:
• Passed a resolution authorizing the purchase of an ambulance for the fire department from the Houston-Galveston Area Council in the amount of $335,925.
Passed a resolution awarding the bid for shooting range site clearing to GreenCo Services in an amount not to exceed $48,825.
• Postponed a public hearing and had the first reading of an ordinance change in the Zeke’s Landing Marina’s planned unit development which is looking to build additional parking.
During the work session, the council discussed:
Rescheduling the meeting on Feb. 16 due to the Mardi Gras holiday.
• Purchasing educational materials for environmental awareness. The proposed cost would be $6,000 or $10 per book for 600 books.
• Resolutions awarding annual bids for aggregate, chlorine, concrete labor, concrete, lime, masonry labor, salt, sand and topsoil, sod, and sludge removal and disposal.
• A resolution declaring certain personal property owned by the City of Orange Beach as surplus and unneeded and authorizing the Mayor and City Clerk to dispose of such property.
• Setting of a public hearing of Jan. 19 for an amendment to the zoning ordinance for the Popeye’s Orange Beach planned unit development planned for north of the Dollar General on State Route 161.