A dispute over property rights on the northern part of Beach Road last week led the Sarasota County Attorney’s Office to rule Monday that a resident who had put up “For Sale” and “No Trespassing” signs was not breaking the law.
According to county Code Enforcement Officer John Lally and Lourdes Ramirez, former president of the Siesta Key Association, neighbors began complaining Sept. 29 when Andy Cooper asked Realtor Judie Berger, of Signature Sotheby’s International Realty, to erect a sign for four parcels owned by Cooper’s mother, Dorothy Cooper Kornhauser.
Two of the parcels are vacant lots on the north part of Beach Road that are partly submerged.
Lally said the beach lots extend about 110 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. Any property between the Mean High Water Line and the Gulf is considered public access, according to state and county law; however, anything on the land side of the Mean High Water Line is private property.
Cooper, acting as the agent for his mother to sell the two beach lots and properties at 145 Beach Road and 146 Avenida Veneccia, complained about nearby residents having parties on the beach property, Lally said.
Residents had told Cooper that receptions for beach weddings also had been held on those lots in the past, Berger said, and another reception was planned for November.
Cooper was not trying to block public access to the beach below the Mean High Water Line, Lally said. Cooper put up the “No Trespassing” sign and roped off the area that is part of his mother’s private property.
“There is some legal liability if someone gets injured on that part of the property,” Lally said.
However, nearby residents apparently tore down both the Signature Sotheby’s and the “No Trespassing” signs Thursday. Cooper reposted the “No Trespassing” sign Friday.
“(Then, the situation) kind of escalated,” Lally said. “This is more one of those issues of neighbors against neighbors.”
Jean Furlong, property manger for Roberti Enterprises, emailed Lally Sept. 29 to complain about Cooper putting up the signs.
“We believe these signs to be placed illegally and are challenging their right to be placed in the sand on the beach,” Furlong wrote.
Furlong identified herself as representing the owner of the house at 55 Beach Road.
“We were out there for four hours Friday” with two sheriff’s deputies, Lally and residents who had complained about the signs, Berger said. Residents filed trespassing charges against Cooper, and both she and Cooper received threatening phone calls.
“I live on the Key,” said Berger, a 16-year resident. “It’s scary.”
The deputies made efforts to calm down the residents upset about the signs, Berger said.
“(The deputies) could not have been more professional,” Berger said.
The deputies told Cooper to repost the “No Trespassing,” along with the marine-grade rope he bought to mark the line of his private property. Altogether, Cooper spent about $1,000 on the materials. But everything disappeared the night of Sept. 30.
Lally said he spent hours Monday with County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce and county Zoning Administrator Brad Bailey to discuss the situation. Afterward, Pearce sent Lally the following email:
“You have asked for a legal opinion as to whether the real estate sign that has been posted at Parcel Identification No. 0080-18-0034, across Beach Road from the property located at 65 Beach Road, violates any of the provisions of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances. Based on my review of the Coastal Setback Code, Zoning Regulations, and Chapter 90, I do not see a code violation associated with the posting of a real estate sign on private property. Based on the photographs presented to me, there is no indication that the sign has been posted seaward of the Mean High Water Line, which would be sovereign submerged lands.”
Because the Mean High Water Line is a line of demarcation determined based on averages over a year’s time, Lally said none of the residents could accurately determine its location.