Beach access not a problem in Holmes Beach

Holmes Beach beach access
Visitor and resident footprints will continue to mingle on the sand in Holmes Beach long after a new state law goes into effect July 1. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – City leaders don’t think a new Florida law regarding ownership of the beach will be an issue in Holmes Beach.

That’s because Anna Maria Island beaches have been renourished, paid for by tax dollars.

Beachfront property owners had to give up some of their rights to the sand in front of their homes to participate in beach renourishment programs to combat erosion. In renourishment projects, property lines are pushed up to the erosion control line. The erosion control line is located near the dune and vegetation line on the landward side of the beach sand.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said the number of property owners who opted out of the beach renourishment program is very few, if any, in the city. With the erosion control line so far up the landward side of the sand, she said it’s unlikely beachfront property owners will be able to block off sections of the beach to prevent public access and establish private beaches.

Commissioner Jim Kihm said he thinks the city should consider putting an ordinance into effect establishing customary use on Island beaches in Holmes Beach’s jurisdiction and preventing sectioning off of the sand. Petruff agreed that city leaders should fight back if public use of the beach is challenged, but only if a property owner legally challenges the public’s right to use the beach in front of their home.

Under the new law, the city can’t create a new ordinance to prevent privatizing the beach and any ordinances put into effect in 2016 or later are preempted by the state law which goes into effect July 1. If a challenge does arise, it’s up to city leaders to demonstrate continuous, ordinary use of the beach in question by the public. To designate a private beach as public, city leaders also would have to go through the courts and prove customary historic public use of the space. However, due to participation in beach renourishment projects, Petruff said the likelihood that a property owner will challenge the public’s right to the sand is very small.

A challenge for the city, if a legal case is filed, is the time and research needed to establish an updated map of the erosion control line and make sure that any properties not participating in the beach renourishment program are identified. Building Official Jim McGuinness said building department workers would have to go out and physically measure boundary lines to create an exact, updated map.

In an April 3 email to city administration, Commissioner Rick Hurst said he feels city leaders need to make a public statement on the issue to explain what the new state law means for Holmes Beach residents and visitors, potentially at an upcoming public meeting. While he said he expects the regulations to have little to no effect on beachgoers because of how far up the erosion control line is, he feels it’s important to determine the boundaries for visitors and property owners.

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