BY SUSAN HANAFEE – A walk on the beach didn’t have the same meaning as it did for some residents and visitors to the island last season, as developers and owners took steps to keep the public away from their waterfront properties. the water.
The addition of “private beach” signs, as well as cameras and a security guard posting next to the Hill Tide Estates development on the southern tip of the island have bothered some area residents.
The Hill Tide development adjoins the public beach near the Boca Grande Lighthouse.
“For many years my husband and I walked around the south end of the island from Belcher Road to the Charlotte Harbor side of the beach and then into Boca Bay where we live. Recently we’ve seen “ No Trespassing ” signs coming up from Hill Tide, including yellow barricade tape, and now what appears to be a guard! Since when is a public beach suddenly private? A reader emailed the Boca Beacon.
Inquiries to Florida Power & Light Co., the property’s former owners, as well as state and county officials have confirmed that Hill Tide developer Seagate Development Group of Fort Myers owns the beach next door. of his property up to the mean high water mark.
As Florida beach lovers and the Boca Bay resident will know, the mean high water mark changes almost every day. And walkers say Hill Tide often places orange cones in the water to deter visitors from claiming part of the beach in front of the development for their use.
DF Rugg of Battle Creek, Michigan, a frequent day tripper on the island, was particularly concerned about the historic ship moorings that have now become a private gateway for Hill Tide residents.
“What a tragic loss to the public that these four historic structures were not built into a one-of-a-kind pier, which many could have enjoyed forever. Now a potential gem has been lost on everyone, ”he said in a letter to The Beacon.
Rugg blamed Lee County for its lack of leadership in preserving and recovering the old moorings for wider public use. “In the end, it would have been a prize worth fighting for,” he said.
Hill Tide representatives had numerous opportunities over several months to answer questions about their beach access actions, but did not do so.
Several homeowners at the island’s north end in Charlotte County have also recently banded together to erect gates across trails traditionally used by neighbors with deeded beach access.
Homeowners in the north who once could walk several open trails leading down to the beach are now limited to those closest to their home. Several complained about having to climb the docks and cross the water to get to the beach.
“It’s not that easy for us older people,” one of them lamented.
While the beautiful and expansive beaches on the north end of the island are open to everyone, there is no public parking with beach access in Charlotte County.
Bill 631, enacted in 2018 by then Governor Rick Scott, would limit access to Florida beaches, although it has been claimed to be confusing and subject to interpretation.
The law says that even though a beach has been used by the public in the past, it can be claimed as private property through legal recourse that eventually supersedes “customary use” protections.
The renovation of beaches, paid for by taxes, is also part of the problem. Some believe that if there is a beach renovation in the area, owners cannot rate their property at the mean high water mark.
But Lee County public information officer Betsy Clayton said it was an individual matter. “It is not possible to make a general statement about a person’s property rights regarding beach access on a particular oceanfront property without going through every renovation program, support for each renovation project and public archives specific to a particular part. ”
In other words, beach access can be confusing and controversial and is an issue The Beacon will follow.