Florida Statute 163.035 deals with the beach rights of water front homeowners and will go into effect July 1st. It has caused a lot of confusion for all Anna Maria Island residents and visitors that feared the island will have private beaches only.
The legislation states:
ORDINANCES AND RULES RELATING TO CUSTOMARY USE.
A governmental entity may not adopt or keep in effect an ordinance or rule
that finds, determines, relies on, or is based upon customary use of any
portion of a beach above the mean high-water line, as defined in s. 177.27,
unless such ordinance or rule is based on a judicial declaration affirming
recreational customary use on such beach.
What does this mean?
Traditionally, beachgoers walked, suntanned, fished and used the beach in front of island homes that was considered public under the customary use doctrine. Now, the beach becomes private above the mean high-water line. Cities and counties would have to go to court instead of simply passing an ordinance to designate a privately-owned beach as public under the “recreational customary use” doctrine. Municipalities that decide to designate a private beach as public must adopt a notice at a public hearing stating their intention. Then a “Complaint for Declaration of Recreational Customary Use” needs to be filed with the circuit court in the county in which the beach is located within 60 days, providing notice to the property owner. The municipality has the burden of proving that a recreational customary use exists. For example, calling witnesses who have long used that beach, or producing historic photographs of public use.
Lines in the sand
In some communities the beach seaward of the mean high water line, sometimes called “wet sand,” is public. The beach landward of the line or “dry sand” is private and owned by the upland property owner.
However, the erosion control lines replace the mean high water lines on renourished beaches and supercede state legislation to the contrary. “The statute is going to have a very limited application and impact given that most beaches are publicly held or subject to renourishment projects,” said Florida environmental attorney Patrick Krechowski. Where beach renourishment has taken place, the public has reasonable access to those beaches seaward of the erosion control line (ECL) according to Charlie Hunsicker, the Manatee County’s Director of Parks and Natural Resources. He is in charge of the local beach renourishment.
Gulf and Bay Beaches
On Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, the mean high water lines and erosion control lines are vastly different. The mean high water line is established using a 19-year average based on local tidal data established by tidal observations made at specific tide stations. The ECL along the Gulf side beach was established by engineers during state- and federally-funded beach renourishment projects. For most part of the island from the South to just about North of the Sandbar Restaurant the erosion control line runs along the dune vegetation line. The new law will not effect this area of the island at all and will leave most of the beach open to the public.
Interestingly, the very North end of the island never had any beach renourishment and the width of the beach has changed naturally over the decades. About 10 years ago, the seawalls of several Gulf front homes were surrounded by the saltwater and some homes only had a sliver of sand in front of their homes. Luckily, the sand came back and now the most beautiful wide beach stretches along the North end all the way to Bean Point or the tip of the island.
The beach on the bay side was always considered private with the understanding that people are allowed to stroll along the waterline. In order to determine the mean high water line along the bay side of the island the City of Anna Maria recently ordered a survey in the area of the 600 block of South Bay Boulevard. The stakes reveal that the incoming tidal waters of Tampa Bay completely cover the dry sand of the beach. When walking this section of the bay side beachgoers have to walk in the water to avoid trespassing private land. A similar situation occurs in the area by the newly remodeled Rod ‘n Reel Pier. It has its private section of the beach robed off and people will most likely get wet toes to pass this area.
If you need a tip on the perfect spot to relax on the beach stop by our office on historic Pine Ave and chat with our knowledgeable staff. They know the island by heart and are happy to share their island secrets. Call us at 941 779 0304 or send us a quick message here.