ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Controversy is brewing over some beach access points in St. Johns and Volusia counties. A new bill could change the way the beach is used by the public in the future.
House Bill 631, sponsored by Florida Representative Katie Edwards, would get a judge involved when a private beachfront homeowner wants to keep their beachfront property private.
St. Johns County beachfront homeowner Nancy Condron said she disagrees with any homeowner who thinks they own the beach.
“To me, it’s a very complicated issue figuring out where the mean high tide line is,” Condron said. “It’s kind of a hard line to pinpoint, I never really thought much about it.”
The mean high tide line is officially the property boundary for beachfront homeowners, even if it is ever changing, but some homeowners have complained that public beachgoers are using their land for recreational use.
The new bill challenges the “customary use ordinance” that exists n St. Johns and Volusia counties. The ordinance is in place to protect the recreational use of private beaches. It simply means that beaches historically have been open to the public and for that reason should stay that way.
The bill would require the beachgoers to present their argument to a judge as to why they should be able to stay there and the same goes for the property owner. So instead of that “customary use ordinance” as the deciding factor, there would be parcels handed out for different parts of the beach to settle conflicts in court.
Holly Parker with “SurfRider” is leading her organization in opposition to the bill.
“This started because people started putting up fences and hiring guards, so we have to think, is this really what we want for Florida beaches? This could mean more fences, more no trespassing signs, more conflicts between users of the beach,” Parker said.
She said there’s pending litigation over the ordinance in Walton County. Those against the bill want that case to be heard first and they are asking for a public hearing locally before the bill moves forward.
Representative Edwards said her bill is misunderstood.
“We want to be able to protect that, we don’t want to see constant conflict between property owners and the public to use these strips of shoreline for kayaking, surfing, walking on the beach," Edwards said. "As policy owners, we have to figure out how we can protect both sides."
She said bringing a judge would settle the disputes civilly and lessen the involvement of law enforcement. She said too many lawsuits have been filed over the years from both sides because there isn’t a deciding factor like a judge involved from the get-go.
St. Johns County Administrators told First Coast News they have officially taken a stance against the bill and plan to take more action as necessary in the future. They recently sent a letter on the county’s behalf stating their position of opposition.