Volusia County Council to pursue a dog-friendly beach 'test' area in Ormond-by-the-Sea

The council directed staff to bring back information and options regarding enforcement, policing, cost projections and a possible user fee implementation.

Dogs are currently only allowed in two beach parks, both in the south end of the county: Smyrna Dunes Park in New Smyrna Beach and Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet. File photo
Dogs are currently only allowed in two beach parks, both in the south end of the county: Smyrna Dunes Park in New Smyrna Beach and Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet. File photo
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Before committing to making several stretches of beach dog-friendly, the Volusia County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to consider a section near Michael Crotty Bicentennial Park in Ormond-by-the-Sea as a “test” area.

After over three hours of discussion and comments from the public, the council directed staff to bring back information, cost projections and options for enforcement, policing, and a possible user fee.

Last month, County Councilman Troy Kent suggested creating 100-yard sections of beach in all coastal unincorporated areas and municipalities where people may bring their dogs on a leash. 

Dogs have been largely banned from beaches since the county took over beach regulation in 1987.

Currently, dogs are only allowed in two beach parks, both in the south end of the county: Smyrna Dunes Park, in New Smyrna Beach; and Lighthouse Point Park, in Ponce Inlet. 

The test area, a concept brought up in the meeting by a local land use attorney, is a move in the right direction, Kent said.

Pros and cons

Residents who spoke against allowing dogs on additional sections of the beach worried that dogs would disturb shorebird and sea turtle nests.

David Hartgrove, president of the Halifax River Audubon, said opening sections of the beach to dogs is a “terribly bad idea” that appears on the agenda every few years, and that the reasons for rejecting it remain the same. 

While most dog owners may abide by whatever restrictions the council enacts, he said, there will still be a percentage of owners who will not. He also worried about shorebirds such as the near-threatened piping plover.

“Dogs are said to be man’s best friend,” Hartgrove said. “Perhaps they are, but that doesn’t entitle them and their owners to share the entire beach with those of us who wish to swim in clean water and layer blankets down on clean sand.”

On the other side of the argument, some residents felt that adding dog friendly areas to the beach would benefit residents and the community as a whole. 

Nanette McKeel Petrella, president of Daytona Dog Beach, gave the council a petition signed by 2,088 people in support of the measure. Though it wasn’t presented to the council, she said that Daytona Dog Beach and its membership of over 1,200 had also presented the county with a proposal.

“Allowing dogs on the beach can bring us together and make us a better community,” she said. “Give us a chance to prove it.”

Ormond Beach resident and local philanthropist Nancy Lohman, who also serves on the board of the Halifax Humane Society, said residents being able to bring dogs to the beach would create a more social environment, “because good people walking their dogs are going to watch out for other good people walking their dogs.”

“Let us go with our dogs to just a particular area and not make us drive 45 minutes to New Smyrna,” Lohman said. “That’s just not practical for a lot of us, especially older adults.”

Lohman also pledged $100,000 on her and her husband Lowell’s behalf to help kickstart the test area in Bicentennial Park. 

She texted the proposal to Kent later in the meeting as council members discussed fiscal concerns, and he announced it from the dais.


Aiming for compromise

Coming into the meeting, one municipality had voiced its support of allowing dogs on a specific stretch of beach — Ormond.

The city of Ormond Beach submitted a letter of support to the Volusia County Council on Feb. 8, stating that its City Commission supports designating an area near Bicentennial Park as a dog-friendly beach, since the county park has enough parking and a crosswalk. Bicentennial Park is also already home to a dog park. 

The letter played a role in council members’ decision to choose that location as a test area. 

Councilman David Santiago said he came into meeting leaning towards voting against dog-friendly beach areas. But he changed his mind after the discussion, he said, and he liked Ormond’s endorsement.

“We’re going to have bad dog owners regardless of the rules that we create, right?” Santiago said. “But giving it the possibility and supporting [Kent] in your initiative, I’m leaning towards only one. You can get me to one.”

Kent also said he had received a letter of support from the Halifax Humane Society, which mentioned that both Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach have been designated as pet-friendly cities. 

He counted the number of emails in favor of and against a dog-friendly beach that he’d received to date. 

The combined number was 135, he said. Of those, 86 emails were in favor of a dog friendly beach; 49 were against. 

Councilman Matt Reinhart said he’d also received many emails, but most of the ones he received urged him to vote against adding dog-friendly areas on the beach. 

Kent urged the council to find a compromise.

“We have an opportunity here to be a shining star, not only in our county, but with our country,” Kent said. “... A good deal is usually a deal where neither side gets everything they want. That’s what I’m proposing — a compromise.”

Enforcement concerns

Past votes about allowing dogs on the beach have failed in recent council history.

In June 2021, the council voted 5-1 against adding dog-friendly beach areas due to environmental concerns about sea turtle nesting, as well as the cost of additional staff needed to enforce regulations. 

In 2014, the council had also voted against a proposal that would allow dogs on the beach for a trial period. That trial period, according to the county’s presentation, was not pursued after the county considered feedback from stakeholders. Concerns included enforcement, increased danger to migratory birds and the risk of unsanitary conditions on the beach.

Volusia County Beach Safety Director Andrew Ethridge reported that his division handled 3,871 dog complaint calls last year.  

In response to comments from the public that individuals might not follow the county’s imposed regulations, County Council Chair Jeff Brower said he agreed. But, he said, that’s were enforcement comes in.

Brower, who was the only member in support of dog-friendly beaches during the June 2021 vote, disagreed that the county would need to hire extra law enforcement officers.

“We were just told there’s 58 law enforcement officers on 47 miles of beach,” Brower said.

Councilman Don Dempsey said that he would be in favor of having a full-time law enforcement officer, rather than a lifeguard, monitor the dog-friendly beach area.

“You guys have got bigger fish to fry than becoming a bunch of pooper troopers, going out there chasing dog messes,” Dempsey said. “I really think we need to be proactive.”


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