PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – The meeting room at the Bay County government complex was packed this evening for an open house on a controversial issue. Panama City commissioners hosted the event to discuss the multi-use pathway on Beach Drive.
This mile-and-a-half path would run along St. Andrews Bay, right across the street from the picturesque homes on Beach Drive and most of those homeowners don’t want any part of it.
Oct. 24, Tuesday night was the first time residents were able to see the 4-different options for the beach drive pathway proposal.
The state Department of Transportation is putting up 8 million dollars to pay for the project.
Local engineers came up with the 4-designs and asked for resident’s feedback.
“We want to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. And so, part of that process is getting community feedback to help shape the way that it looks and the way that it operates in the project,” said Panama City Commissioner Josh Street.
The differences between the 4-options are small, things like the direction of travel, the width of the walkway, and speed limits
The larger differences are between the two sides, those who want the project, and those that don’t.
The majority of commissioners are on board with the project. Mayor Michael Rohan is against it.
“I think Beach Drive is gorgeous the way it is. And it was probably about nine, ten months ago that we repaved it. So here we’ve gone, and we repaved it. It looks great. And we are seeing proposals to tear it up to put a sidewalk down,” said Panama City Mayor Michael Rohan.
Rohan thinks there should be a fifth option… no sidewalk at all. He’s not alone.
Outside, members of the beach drive preservation group collected signatures on their petition to stop the pathway. So far, they have more than 1,000.
“We don’t want to see that drive destroyed. It’s been there forever. And, you know, the people who bought that property home there, they didn’t buy that property to have a path put there,” said Panama City Resident Margaret Matheson.
But a large number of people attending the open house are excited about the possibilities of the waterside walkway.
“I have a disabled parent who enjoys that stretch of land, who loves to walk up and down that area and can’t anymore because it’s not safe and it’s not it’s just not feasible. It’s not reachable for him. So he can’t go down there anymore,” said Panama City Resident Melanie Kirby.
“Everybody, and I know that Panama City is a small community but, in order to be progressive, you have to progress,” said Panama City Resident Mary Mann.
Commissioner Street says the city plans to hold another open house before a final decision.
If commissioners do decide to follow through with building the walkway, a construction bid would go out in fall 2024 and The walkway could be finished by late 2025.