Beaches Customary Land Use Laws Under Scruteny

Walton County’s customary use ordinance will become invalid on July 1, which is the date when House Bill 631 takes effect.

HB 631 was recently signed by Gov. Rick Scott to re-establish possession of real property, which favors the rights of beach-front property owners who have deeds stating that they own beach in front of their homes down to the mean high-water line, and sometimes to water’s edge.
“It renders the county’s customary use ordinance void beginning July 1, 2018,” Public Information Manager Louis Svehla told The Sun. “Things will return to how they were prior to the passing of the ordinance. But regardless of the bill, the plaintiffs (Gulf-front property owners) won the part of the lawsuit regarding signage and marking of private property, so they had the ability to do that any way.”

Svehla said the county attorney’s office is working on items regarding the beach and waterways ordinance regarding signage and will bring them forward in the future.
“The Board of County Commissioners has given my office permission to begin the process outlined in HB 631 for the adoption of a new customary use ordinance,” said County Attorney Sidney Noyes. “My office is working with land-use attorney David Theriaque, who was previously retained by the board to represent the county on issues regarding customary use, to move forward with the adoption of a new customary use ordinance as quickly as possible.”

HB 631 amends and modernizes real property provisions controlling ejectment, unlawful and forcible entry, and unlawful detainer actions. These actions all involve a person entitled to possession of real property who is wrongfully removed but seeks to recover possession of the property. The relevant statutes are amended to create new definitions, clarify that circuit courts have jurisdiction over these actions, modernizes statutory pleading requirements, and provides remedies.
The final section of the bill creates a new statute governing the “customary use” of private property for public use. The language details the process by which a governmental entity may seek the judicial determination of a recreational customary use of private beach property.

The new process requires a governmental entity at a public hearing to adopt a formal notice of intent to affirm the existence of a recreational customary use. The parcel owner must be notified of the intent at least 30 days before the public meeting. Within 60 days after adopting the Notice of Intent, the governmental entity must file a complaint for Declaration of Recreational Customary Use with the circuit court and provide each parcel owner with the option to intervene. The court must then make a determination if the recreational customary use exists.

A government entity may, however, raise customary use as an affirmative defense in a proceeding challenging an ordinance or rule adopted before July 1, 2018.

Enforcement of laws or violations, as always, falls under the Sheriff’s Office, said Svehla.