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Siesta Key Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 5 months ago

Homeowners' blocked beach access leaves many questioning legality of actions

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A couple roped off a section of beach near Siesta Key Beach Access 1, which many residents say is unfair.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

After a couple who lives near Siesta Key Beach Access 1 built a makeshift barricade on the beach, many residents are left wondering what part of the beach they can use.

Jim Skinner and his fiance, Barbara Stephens, frequent the beach at the end of North Shell Road, but a few weeks ago, they grew concerned when they saw the cordoned off section and signs about security cameras.

A few days later, Stephens took her children to play on the beach, and they were sprayed with “sulphurous water” from a sprinkler on the property.

“It wasn’t pointed at their yard or anything,” Skinner said. “It was spraying people on the beach every 30 minutes or so.”

A few days after that, Stephens was charged with trespassing for walking on the beach near the home.

The $3.5 million home, purchased by Greg and Michelle Olson in 2017, is directly south of the public beach access. Homeowners have placed ropes, stakes and slabs of concrete around their property in an effort to keep residents off.

The owners did not return a voicemail for comment. However, Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner spoke on the couple’s behalf at a January SKA meeting.

“There is a narrative going around that the owners are trying to close down the public beach access, and that narrative is absolutely false,” Luckner said. “These owners have very little peace using their own property. … It’s like your friends are having an all-day barbecue at your house, but they forgot to ask your permission.”

Luckner said the Olsons have had dogs defecate in their yard and criminal activity, such as drug use, happen behind their home. The ropes, which block a segment of the thin strip of sand, have many residents questioning the legality of the barricade.

In 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that gave more power to waterfront property owners to eject people from their part of the beach. The Florida Constitution, however, protects public access to any beach that regularly gets wet from the rising tide.

Although Luckner said the owners have “done everything lawfully,” Skinner contends the roped off section of beach stretches farther than the high-tide line. When the Observer visited the property, stakes and several slabs stretched into the water.

Because Skinner feels his and other residents’ rights are being infringed, he started an online petition requesting the public access to the shoreline be restored. Currently, the petition has more than 6,000 signatures. 

“This just sends a message that the rich feel like they’re entitled to a private beach, and the other 99% just have to deal with it,” Skinner said.

This isn’t the first time residents have felt their access to Beach Access 1 has been restricted.

In June 2019 property owners started a petition to stop parking along North Shell Road altogether. Rocks were placed in parking spots allotted for beach parking and parking signs were moved. 

“This has been tried many times over the years, and we’ve always fought back,” Skinner said. “This time will be no different.”

Luckner, however, said the owners had a legal right to block off their section of land.

“They don’t want anyone to be disenfranchised from using the beach. They don’t want to obstruct access,” Luckner said. “They don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome, but at the same time, you don’t want homeowners to feel afraid to go to sleep.”

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