Discussion to restore beach driving in Daytona's Main Street area fails 4-2

County Councilman Troy Kent, knowing the vote would fail, voted against the discussion to be able to bring it back up at a future council meeting, one attended by all seven members.

The request to reopen the stretch of beach surrounding Main Street in Daytona was placed on the agenda after staff received direction to do so by County Council Chair Jeff Brower. Map courtesy of Volusia County
The request to reopen the stretch of beach surrounding Main Street in Daytona was placed on the agenda after staff received direction to do so by County Council Chair Jeff Brower. Map courtesy of Volusia County
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In a play he described as a "chess move," Volusia County Councilman Troy Kent voted against a request by the County Council chair to discuss reinstating driving on the beach on a stretch from International Speedway Boulevard to Auditorium Boulevard in Daytona Beach. 

Kent, who said he was in favor of having the discussion, was met with three nays from his fellow council members — Danny Robins, Jake Johansson and Matt Reinhart. With one council member absent at the May 21 meeting, David Santiago, if Kent had voted in favor, the motion would have died. 

"I'm going to vote no on this so that I have an opportunity to bring this back up when Mr. Santiago is here," Kent said. "This needs a full discussion of the entire council. It puts a lot of weight on Mr. Santiago, but hey — that's part of the job."

County Council Chair Jeff Brower and Councilman Don Dempsey voted in favor of the discussion.

The request to reopen the stretch of beach surrounding Main Street in Daytona was placed on the agenda after staff received direction to do so by Brower, who announced this as a goal of his during his 2024 State of the County address.

Beach driving was removed from that portion of beach in 2000 after a 1996 ordinance was passed by the County Council, according to the county staff agenda item summary. The 1996 agenda item stated that the ordinance supported the city's redevelopment efforts at Main Street and that the Volusia Vision Beach Committee "recognized the need for traffic free areas adjacent to redevelopment areas." Beach driving was removed four years after the approval of the ordinance when the Ocean Center parking area opened with 1,500 public parking spaces, as the ordinance was contingent on the addition of at least 1,000 parking spaces.

Brower said he is asking for the discussion after hearing from the public and the Main Street Merchants Association who are asking for help to attract people to the area.

"Since we removed vehicular access on the beach, we've lost ... a lot of what used to be mom-and-pop owners of establishments up and down that section of beach," Brower said. "There's many storefronts that are empty. There's restaurants that have gone out of business. The boardwalk is empty."

Because the current state allows the removal of beach driving, but doesn't allow for its restoration, the county — if the council does wish to pursue the matter — would need seek a change to state law, and likely amend its federal permit. A proposed special law would need to be approved by the Volusia County Legislative Delegation prior to the start of the next session on March 4, 2025. 

"The reason this was done was for economic development and the belief that it would bring a flock of people in," Brower said. "The exact opposite has happened. It's been devastating to the beachside community, to the businesses that are there and it took away a favorite part of the beach from people like me that grew up and worked on the beach."

Representatives from the Main Street Merchants Association spoke in favor of the discussion at the meeting. Ormond Beach resident Thomas Caffrey, who owns a business in the corridor and serves as the vice president of the association, said no revitalization has occurred since the beach driving was taken away. The businesses that once thrived, he said, started leaving after 2000.

"On behalf of the Main Street Merchants Association, we really want this back," he said. "We want it to be a discussion. We want it to be better for the area." 

However, Beach rental concessions operator Derek Green, of Ormond Beach, said the area does see crowds. He and his family have been in business in the traffic free beach for 43 years, and he said he remembers when the proposal was made to remove cars for beachgoers to have a "traditional beach experience" and revitalizing the area.

"I've been there these last 25 years and I'm here to say that these statements, as I remembered them, have worked," Green said. "It is a different type of beach experience from a traffic beach and I understand cars on the beach in areas without off-beach parking available. But there are people who seek out and intend to park in the off-beach parking in the core and it is popular and it does get crowded."

Tom Garrett, president of the Main Street Merchants Association, said he's owned business and rental properties in the corridor since 1985. In the first year driving was taken away, he said, merchants suffered a 50% loss of business. 

Kent said it was "gut-wrenching" to hear that.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this decision back in 2000 created essentially a private beach and I can see why certain business owners who make money from the people that stay in the hotels don't want anything to change, but you have a Main Street that's starving," Kent said.

Reinhart said public safety was one of his big concerns for reinstating driving on the beach. He also questioned if actions could be taken now, since reinstating driving on the beach would need the support of the Volusia County Legislative Delegation and representatives will change come November after the elections. 

Johansson said he wasn't opposed to the discussion, but said that it wasn't an identified council goal and would take away from other issues. 

"Up until this point, I haven't heard people clamoring to put driving back on the beach in this area," he said. "Although again, I'm ready to discuss it. But, they are talking about flooding and they are talking about other things."

Robins said he didn't believe the removal of beach driving was the sole issue or catalyst behind the blight in the corridor. He called the discussion request a demonstration of "political theater." He said a council member doesn't need to get the council's permission to gather information 

"This isn't our first rodeo," Robins said. "Are we doing this for just politically symbolic [sic]? I want to be effective and efficient with our time. There's a way to do this and a process."

Brower said he spoke with the county attorney prior to bringing the request forward, and that the county attorney said the request should be brought before the council for approval.


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