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Old 12-06-2018, 09:35 AM   #1
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Default More Public Water Access Lost

Well we lost a great water front access point In Gulf Breeze and Im sure the others will be lost as well. Ive used this access point for many years and by my family for decades before that. Here's the article from the PNJ

After decades of wrangling over a small parcel of land at the end of Catawba Street, the city of Gulf Breeze is poised to pay out $250,000 to private property owners on either side of the parcel who have been contesting the public's right to use the land since 2013.

On Nov. 28, the Florida Court of Appeals released its decision to uphold the lower court's decision in regards to the Catawba lawsuit appeal. City lawyers had appealed a judge's ruling to compel the city to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees related to the ongoing legal battle.

But a judge upheld the ruling, ordering the city to pay $250,000 to the plaintiffs' attorneys. The city's decision to not pursue another appeal effectively brings the legal battle to a close, meaning members of the public will have one fewer access way to the water.

At the center of the original lawsuit, which was filed in Santa Rosa County civil court in 2013, is an approximately 20-by-50-foot beach on the Pensacola Bay, sandwiched in between two waterfront homes owned by John Lance Reese and Peter and Mitzi Peters.

This image from the Santa Rosa County property appraiser's website (with red lines added by the PNJ) shows the properties in question at the end of Catawba Street.
This image from the Santa Rosa County property appraiser's website (with red lines added by the PNJ) shows the properties in question at the end of Catawba Street. (Photo: Courtesy of Santa Rosa County Property Appraiser)

The beach is part of a small slice of land owned by Reese and Peters that sits at the end of Catawba Street in between their properties, but the land has been used by the city as a right-of-way since it was developed in the 1950s. For decades, Gulf Breeze city residents have claimed they used the right-of-way to access the beach and the water.

The 2013 lawsuit brought by Reese and the Peters sought to establish the portion of the beach at the end of Catawba Street as their private property and prohibit the public from using it as a public water access. A judge in 2016 sided with them, saying the city was in contempt of court by placing a sign at the piece of land indicating it was a public water access.

The beach and the land surrounding it has been at the center of various legal battles for decades, including a key case in 1979 that essentially deeded portions of the beach to upland property owners. The city argued that some parts of the beach, namely a portion of the beach at the end of Catawba Street, were never transferred to the proper homeowners and the sale of the beach for $18,000 in the fall of 2013 was not legal.

This strip of land is owned by the homeowners on either side but has been used as a right-of-way for the city of Gulf Breeze for decades. It leads to a piece of waterfront property that has all but officially been deemed off limits to the public, despite years of people using it as a public water access.
This strip of land is owned by the homeowners on either side but has been used as a right-of-way for the city of Gulf Breeze for decades. It leads to a piece of waterfront property that has all but officially been deemed off limits to the public, despite years of people using it as a public water access. (Photo: Annie Blanks/ablanks@pnj.com)

But now, with the city losing its fourth consecutive appeal, incoming Mayor David Landfair says it's time to turn in the towel.

"I have reached out to both families, and I am grateful to move forward," Landfair said in a statement to the News Journal. "The City Council has followed the advice of legal counsel as it relates to these various challenges to neighborhood waterfront access."

"Since the late 1980s, longtime residents who had enjoyed the neighborhood beach since the 1950s have urged the city council to defend their right to enjoy the beach," Landfair's statement continued. "When the city was sued by (Reese) and Peters, residents continued to urge the city to defend the public's water access rights, pointing to the other six water access points which could be under threat."


The city had sought to establish eminent domain over the property, essentially taking the land from the property owners with compensation, in 2015. It had also argued that because people had enjoyed the beach for decades, the rule of "customary use" would protect citizens' rights to continue using the beach.


In late 2015, the city of Gulf Breeze even built a brand new staircase from the land down to the beach. Today, that staircase is abandoned and overgrown with weeds and trees. The city removed the sign encouraging public access to the property in compliance with a judge's order in 2016.

Landfair, who had to recuse himself from much of the litigation due to his parents owning property in the Catawba subdivision, said it's time for the city to end the appeal.

"In the instance of the Reeses and Peters, this has been particularly difficult as both families are outstanding Gulf Breeze citizens," he said in the statement. "I now am grateful to be able to say loud and clear that it is time to move on."

“Although the city council, prior city manager and city lawyer/mayor are responsible for forcing this litigation and approval of this cast amount of monies spent on lawyers, we do apologize to the citizens of Gulf Breeze. Know that we have been trying for over ten years to resolve this with the city, but to no avail.”

Statement from Peter and Mitzi Petters
Ken Bell, an attorney for the Peters, blasted the city in a statement to the News Journal, saying "courts rarely find cities in contempt of court because most cities respect the rule of law and the private property rights of citizens."

He praised the court of appeal's decision and said his clients did "everything possible" to avoid litigation.

"It is comforting knowing our courts will protect private property rights, but this was a long, unpleasant journey, and it is a shame the taxpayers' money was so needlessly wasted," he said.

As of press time, the city has not responded to a public records request for how much it has spent on lawyers throughout the duration of the case.

The Peters said in an email to the News Journal they were grateful to the courts.

"Although the city council, prior city manager and city lawyer/mayor are responsible for forcing this litigation and approval of this cast amount of monies spent on lawyers, we do apologize to the citizens of Gulf Breeze," they said. "Know that we have been trying for over ten years to resolve this with the city, but to no avail."

Landfair indicated he was concerned the ruling could establish precedent for other private homeowners in Gulf Breeze to challenge the public's right to access the land. He said similar lawsuits are pending.
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Old 12-06-2018, 07:58 PM   #2
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So, as I read it there is no question that the property is owned by the joining land owners? y/n


It has just been used for decades as public access? y/n


And now the land owners want the public to quit using their land to access the beach, which will make that part private, thus no access? y/n


If yes to all 3 questions then what is the heartburn? it's private correct?
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Old 12-06-2018, 08:12 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cape horn 24 View Post
So, as I read it there is no question that the property is owned by the joining land owners? y/n


It has just been used for decades as public access? y/n


And now the land owners want the public to quit using their land to access the beach, which will make that part private, thus no access? y/n


If yes to all 3 questions then what is the heartburn? it's private correct?
And now you know how Gulf Breeze works.
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Old 12-06-2018, 08:21 PM   #4
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Should have filed for Imminent Domain. I mean thats how you steal private property right?
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Old 12-06-2018, 08:23 PM   #5
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Just because something is done wrong for a long time does not mean it should continue!
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Old 12-07-2018, 01:00 PM   #6
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Where was the concern when 3 boat launches were taken away that I know of in the past One in Pensacola and 2 on Pensacola beach.
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Old 12-07-2018, 01:02 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Hook View Post
Where was the concern when 3 boat launches were taken away that I know of in the past One in Pensacola and 2 on Pensacola beach.
Which ramps, Wayside? They will be back when the bridge is finished.
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Old 12-07-2018, 02:02 PM   #8
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As you can clearly see from the property appraisers website, the city's right of way is cut off from the water by the adjoining lots. This means these people have been and still are paying property taxes on this property that has been unjustly deemed public by the city. If it was my property and I was paying taxes on it, I would not want it to be public access either.
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Old 12-07-2018, 02:26 PM   #9
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Y'all losing ramps and Alabama is about to build the Googan Mecca over here in the ICW.
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Old 12-07-2018, 02:29 PM   #10
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I don't even see how you can use that as water access? No parking, no ramp.
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