ANNA MARIA – When discussing a new state law taking effect July 1 regarding beach access and private property rights, Anna Maria commissioners heard about an existing dispute.
On April 12, the mayor, commission and City Attorney Becky Vose heard Jayne Slade-Dashiell and Karen Pacific give sworn public testimony about an encounter they had with beachfront property owner Terry Olesen.
Their testimony may be used to support a city-wide customary use ordinance being developed. Adopting a customary use ordinance before July 1 would provide the city with an affirmative defense if someone sues the city for enforcing an existing customary beach use.
Dashiell lives on the 500 block of Bayview Place. Olesen lives on the 500 block of South Bay Boulevard in a home that faces Tampa Bay. It is in a residential area not enhanced by beach renourishment projects.
“Today, we’re walking toward the pier and this guy who’s got signs up came out and started yelling at us saying get off my beach. He said this is private property and you can’t come on here,” Dashiell said.
Last July, Olesen placed two signs on the beach between his home and Tampa Bay.
“No Trespassing. This beach is private property,” they say.
Dashiell said Olesen cited a 1952 law when claiming his property extends into Tampa Bay.
“I’ve lived here for 31 years and I can’t believe this is happening,” Dashiell said.
A beachfront property line is defined by the erosion control line if beach renourishment has occurred, and by the mean high water line if renourishment has not. Along Florida’s coastlines, the land between those lines and the water is state-owned.
Dashiell said her neighbor’s family had a similar encounter: “Their kids were walking in the water and the adults were walking in the wet sand. This guy came out screaming and cursing at them with their young grandkids there.”
Pacific, from Indiana, said she’s been visiting Anna Maria for 30 years.
“You sacrifice a little if your home is right on the beach because you share it with so many people. We have always been respectful of anybody who lives on the beach, but we walk for exercise and pure enjoyment,” she said.
“Today, this gentleman came out and yelled at us that it was private property and we were to get off the beach. He called the police on us. The police came down and we had to step off the property in order for them to explain that it’s a process you are all working on and hoping to resolve.
“He did tell us he owned all the way into the water, so we were going to have to go around and walk on the street. As a guest, it just seemed to defeat the whole purpose of my enjoyment here,” she said.
When visited after the meeting, Olesen said his encounter with Dashiell and Pacific was unrelated to the forthcoming law. He said he first discussed these concerns with the mayor five years ago.
Olesen’s grandparents bought the property in 1952, his parents lived there in the 80s and 90s and he’s lived there since 2000.
Olesen said until 2009 the water came up to the seawall at the end of his patio and there was no permanent beach.
According to a previous survey, Olesen believes his property line at least extends to within about three feet of where the water was that evening – and he doesn’t mind people walking seaward of that. He plans to get a new survey and install a rope and bollard fence to prevent people from walking on the vegetation he’s trying to increase for erosion control purposes.
Olesen said he didn’t yell at Dashiell and Pacific.
“I say it so often I have a set phrase: ‘Excuse me, I’m sorry, but this is private property.’ Her response was ‘No it’s not,’ so I called the police. While I’m on the phone she’s yelling at me. They don’t see themselves as a problem, but if you deal with it all the time it’s a major hassle,” he said.
During the recent meeting, Vose referenced a federal court case involving Walton County and property owners fencing off beach areas.
“Sometimes the Federal Court does interesting things. They said a fence is free speech because it’s like sign language. You put a fence up and people know what you’re saying: Don’t go here. They talked about fences being covered by free speech under First Amendment rights. We’re going to have to investigate all of that to come up with the right answers,” Vose said.
“This guy seems to think he owns out to the water,” Commissioner Doug Copeland said.
He asked if there was a message Sgt. Mike Jones should relay to deputies responding to beach trespassing calls.
“There has been a customary use of that entire bay side so we should not be utilizing our police department to kick people off. We can get in trouble for that,” Vose said.
“Can we use our police department to do something about this guy?” Copeland asked.
“It’s become a harassment issue. He’s harassing our visitors and our residents. He’s using false information,” Commissioner Brian Seymour added.
Mayor Dan Murphy agreed and said he’s working with Jones and Vose on solutions to bring to the commission.