Cities try to navigate new beach use law

While many other Florida beachside communities are just learning of dramatic public beach use-rights changes approved by the state for private property, the city councils in Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach took last-minute steps to help their cities in future legal action.

Both cities lobbied heavily against HB 631 because it removes the authority of local governments to determine the use of private beachside properties.

Simply put: Dry sand is the property owners’; wet sand has customary use by public.

The similar 11th-hour ordinances approved by both councils were an attempt to “grandfather” some of the cities’ authority in relation to beach use before the legislation takes effect July 1.

However, like many aspects of HB631, it is not clear if the local ordinances will be allowed to be grandfathered or which local properties will be impacted by the new rules.

Customary use, as explained by Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker: “If an activity has continued for a long time without interruption, the law will eventually recognize that activity and provide a legal right for it to continue.”

One positive change resulting from HB631 announced by Barker on Facebook is that the public access easements that Brevard County obtained from property owners for the recent Mid-Reach Beach Nourishment Project appears to secure public access to those areas of the beach otherwise affected by HB 631.

Satellite Beach Assistant City Manager Suzanne Sherman said the city is pleased to have reacted so quickly in response to the legislation which she said is best described by the word “sweeping” in terms of its potential impact on the public beach use.

The local ordinance was initially requested by Satellite Beach resident John Fergus.

He remains skeptical that the local ordinances will be allowed to help the situation, but believes the last-chance effort was worth a shot, considering the stakes.

The Indian Harbour Beach ordinance approved March 27, patterned after Satellite Beach’s ordinance, contains the phrase “no individual, group or entity shall interfere with the public’s ability to continue its long-standing customary use of the dry sand areas.’’

The Satellite Beach City Council will discuss the issue at the April 18 City Council meeting.

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