There’s a parking problem at Mickler’s Landing Beachfront Park, and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office (SJSO) is responding by enforcing the law.
In an interview with the Recorder, SJSO Public Information Officer Chuck Mulligan categorized the problem as an “issue of overcapacity” that is not exclusive to Mickler’s Landing.
"It's not a new phenomenon for us at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “We for a number of years have addressed parking issues up into the Mickler's area. We are dealing with an issue of overcapacity. We have more individuals wanting to come visit beautiful beaches in the Ponte Vedra area than we have capacity to park them in a parking lot."
Mulligan noted that the sheriff’s office receives complaints from citizens about illegally-parked cars along the road, and the department responds by sending deputies to enforce the law and hand out parking citations.
Before writing a ticket, Mulligan said officers will issue warnings if they can make contact with visitors. If the car owners are not near their vehicle, deputies will issue a county ordinance parking citation.
"Some of the individuals that we've talked to over time have said they understand they're going to get a ticket and they're not overly concerned about it," Mulligan said. "They just look at it as the cost to park to go to the beach."
Mulligan insisted that, if possible, the sheriff’s office would rather issue warnings than parking tickets.
"Our job is not to go out and see how many citations we can write," he said. "Our job is to enforce laws and certainly many times that amounts to a warning either verbally or written."
Mulligan said the lack of parking at Mickler's can lead to safety concerns due to visitors parking on a narrow span of off-road area.
"You have individuals who are coming in and out between cars that are parked along the road," he said. "And then we also have individuals who are parking on the sidewalk."
Michael Ryan, the director of communications for St. Johns County, said beach parking is at a premium throughout the county, and all 42 miles of beaches are extremely popular.
Ryan asserted the county’s tourism industry has grown rapidly, making it a victim of its own success. The parking problem at Mickler's is not unique, Ryan added, and other beaches across the county are experiencing the same issue from Vilano to Matanzas.
Furthermore, the director of communications said the county is exploring every option to provide additional beach parking and alternative transportation.
"At the end of the day it comes down to funding," he said. "The Board of County Commissioners directed staff to implement off-beach parking fees which is projected to generate 'X' amount of dollars annually, so there's potentially some funding available there for the future."
According to Ryan, a recent professional study suggested that beach visitors are willing to pay for parking near the beach and the county is generally in favor of a user-based fee system.
"If you're the one using the beaches – which means you're benefiting from the lifeguards and the law enforcement and the trash pick-up and the restrooms and the driving lanes and the actual cleanup of the beach – you're the one benefiting from it therefore you should be the one paying for it," he said.
Ryan added that there are 42 miles of beaches, and those who can't find a parking spot at Mickler's can visit other beach access points along the coast.
As for new parking lots, Ryan said there is "no significant funding" that has been identified to build or purchase land for new lots. However, the director of communications noted that St. Johns County provides beach shuttles during high-volume weekends to alleviate parking issues on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.