Naples votes to reopen beaches — again — with some limitations
Editor's Note: This story has been changed to specify the hours beach chairs are acceptable on Naples beaches and to provide the correct date for the next city council meeting.
The City of Naples has voted to reopen its beaches again but this time with some limitations.
After a grueling emergency meeting and three failed motions, council members negotiated their way to a fourth and final vote.
Naples beaches will be open sunrise to sunset, Monday through Friday, starting at 7 a.m. May 13. The beaches will have shorter hours on weekends: 7 to 11 a.m. and then closing before reopening from 5 p.m. to sunset. The weekend hours will extend to Memorial Day, too.
Closed? Again? From Saturday:Public beaches in Naples to close Sunday at 12:01 a.m., crowded conditions cited
Coolers and tents will not be allowed on the beaches at anytime, but chairs can be used on weekdays and during weekend evening hours to watch the sunset.
Parking enforcement has been beefed up with fines doubling to $200 with no option to pay early for a discount. Illegally parked cars can also now be towed.
Parking will be limited to those with beach stickers (both city and Collier County stickers are accepted) but the city will not allow parking on residential streets unless they are properly marked parking spaces.
Some council members were steadfast in trying to get shorter hours during the weekdays as well as the weekends.
"I am rigidly set on 7-day bifurcation hours," Councilman Ray Christman said. "It seems to me that opening the beach from dawn to dusk, five days a week and not placing any limitations on activities is just further increasing the risk of having out-of-towners coming in and using the beach and creating a situation that replicated last weekend.
Christman's more "prudent and cautious" approach was echoed by Councilman Mike McCabe and Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison. The three men voted against the motion calling for shortened hours during the week and limitations on activities.
Part of the city's motion is to reconsider the new rules during their meeting on June 3.
Public comments at the emergency meeting ran hours long. They ran the gamut as some speakers scolded the council for closing the beach, some were in favor of the closure and others urged for a tempered re-opening with various restrictions.
Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor spoke to the city council during the public comment section.
"This idea that suddenly we are Draconian in what we are doing is nonsense," Taylor said. "This is a time we have never experienced before. I think you acted in the best interest of the citizens and taxpayers."
Moving forward, Taylor said she doesn't think beaches should be closed and wants to move in a direction that honors law enforcement and at the same time allows people on the beach. She said the county will keep a close eye on how the city handles its beach access.
"We need to work together; we are all in this together," Taylor said.
Only a week after the city opened the beaches to the public, the closure order was issued after a council member witnessed crowds on Saturday not following social distancing guidelines.
"My judgment call was not done hastily," Mayor Teresa Heitmann said. "It was done with the city manager, the police chief and the fire department to make sure this situation does not get out of control. I heard descriptions of mayhem and a lack of regard to emergency orders of social distancing."
The closure took effect at 12:01 Sunday morning and included city beach accesses, beach restrooms, parking areas, Naples Pier, Lowdermilk Park and associated walkways.
The city received complaints Saturday that the beaches were overcrowded and people "were not, or could not comply with social distancing requirements mandated during the public health emergency caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus," according to a document the city manager put together for Monday's emergency meeting.
Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler described Saturday's scenes on the beach during the emergency meeting.
"By 4 p.m. it was body to body on the beach," Weschler said. "You couldn't see white sand on the beach (from our drone)."
Naples Police documented illegal parking throughout the city as people flocked to the reopened beach. Weschler described one street's turnaround by the beach as a "parkaround" as beachgoers neglected parking ordinances and scoffed at citations police officers had written.
The police chief offered the council five options to open discussion on reopening the beach again. The only option recommended by the chief and city staff was reopening the beach during the week but closing it on weekends and holidays. The recommendation also asks the city manager for the ability to tow illegally parked vehicles.
"Whatever council does decide to do, we are here for you," Weschler said.
During the council's April 29 meeting to reopen the beaches, the Daily News reported that members of the council were aware that walking back the reopening may be necessary.
“There is no perfect position here to take,” Christman said before reopening the beaches that day. “There’s risks, there’s uncertainties, but I think we just have to accept that, monitor it and if we need to make changes down the road, we will.”
Within the city's reopening plan, gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people and social distancing must be at least 6 feet between each person. These plans were outlined under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and Gov. Ron DeSantis's executive order 20-112, which declared a state of emergency in Florida.
Previous coverage:Naples City Council votes to reopen access to city beaches, parks
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @karlstartswithk, email him at email@example.com
Reporters Brittany Carloni and Mike Braun contributed to this report.