As the county considers providing more public access to its beaches, waterfront homeowners, who feel their property rights could be violated if the public is given too much leeway, are suggesting changes to the law.
Casey Key, Siesta Key and Manasota Key homeowners associations are suggesting new wording to the county codes that will preserve their private-property rights, while giving the public the access it desires.
Because of a few high-profile disputes between homeowners and beachgoers on Siesta Key, the county began discussions last year with residents of the three keys to get their input into providing more public access to the beaches.
The law allows the public to be on the beach seaward of the mean high-tide line — what is generally referred to as “wet sand.” Private property can exist only landward of the mean high-tide line.
The county sought to remedy the situation by updating the law to prohibit barriers or signs within 25 feet of the mean high-tide line.
But the County Commission unanimously rejected the new wording and decided to keep the current law.
Waterfront property owners, however, feel that some of the prohibitions in the law infringe on their rights.
“There are unintended consequences to private residences that need to be rectified,” said Bob Metzger,
president of the Casey Key Association. “So we’ve made changes to separate private and public beaches.”
Metzger, along with two Manasota Key homeowners associations, has come up with a definition of “private beach” that they would like to see inserted into the county code.
It would be the “area landward of the mean high-tide line with a deed of ownership held by an individual, group of individuals, corporation, partnership or other non-government entity with exclusive rights to access and to use the property in accordance with property laws.”
The county code lists 17 prohibited activities and uses for beaches, but it makes no distinction whether that beach is on public or private property (see box).
Casey Key and Manasota Key suggest adopting six of those prohibitions for its definition of a private beach.
• Abandonment of animal fecal matter
• Parking or driving motorized vehicles on the beach
• Disposal of litter, except in proper receptacles
• Sale of food or drink or sale or rental of sports equipment, except by county permit
• Fires, except in grills, fireplaces or barbecue pits
• Introduction of any plant or animal species to the environment by willful abandonment, negligence or for any other reason without county permission
Rob LaDue, a county parks and recreation supervisor, believes the definitions of private beaches and prohibitions on them is what county commissioners wanted to avoid when they decided in December to leave the law unchanged.
Siesta Key is currently writing its own suggestions.
Banned on the Beach
Section 90-33 of the county code prohibits the following activities and uses on county beaches:
•Holding, drinking from, possessing or disposing of glass containers
•Dogs, cats and other pets outside of areas designed for animals
•The use of cigarettes, cigars or any tobacco product outside of designated areas
•Abandonment of animal fecal matter
•Fishing activities in swimming areas
•Parking or driving vehicles or mooring watercraft between midnight and 6 a.m.
•Parking or driving a vehicle or watercraft outside of designated areas
•Operation of a bicycle within areas that exclude such use
•Operation of motorized vehicles over 15 mph, unless otherwise posted
•Overnight camping except in designated areas
•Disposal of litter, except in proper receptacles
•Sale of food or drink or sale or rental of sports equipment, except by county permit
The playing of sports and games in which an object is propelled through the air, except in designated areas
•Fires, except in grills, fireplaces or barbecue pits provided by county.
•Soliciting or canvassing without permission from county
•Disturbing, on land or in water, any structures, equipment, soil, natural water bottom formation, sand, gravel, etc., except during legal fishing, county-authorized animal trapping, sculpting sand, collecting sharks’ teeth or shells or collection of pants and animals for educational purposes.
•Introduction of any plant or animal species to the environment by willful abandonment, negligence or for any other reason without county permission.
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