PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida — Beaches across Florida are about to see a major change. Stretches of sand behind condos, hotels and homes, could soon be off limits to the public.
Starting July 1, it will be up to private businesses and homeowners to decide if they want to restrict the public from using their portion of the sand from the high tide water line up. That means the dry sand adjacent to their building could be private, while the wet sand will remain public.
It's an idea beachgoer Heather Towns does not agree with. The mom, from Indiana, comes to Redington Shores every year with her family.
“I think it’s a beach. I think you should be able to walk wherever you want," she elaborated. “We come here every year for the past 4 years because it’s private.”
Yet, come July 1, the sand that Towns and her family often visit behind a 4-story condo building, could be reserved for condominium owners only. Governor Rick Scott recently signed a bill allowing hotels, condos and other property owners to put up signs or even rope off their section of the beach, if they choose.
Ron Gonzalez manages the Gulf Mariner Condos on Redington Shores. While he doesn’t agree with roping off the beach, he says protecting private property— which he pays taxes on— is critical.
“It’s no different than if they came in and took your own personal backyard on the mainland. It is no different whatsoever," Gonzalez explained.
The new law is the first of its kind in the country, and goes against Florida’s long standing "customary use" policy, which states that beaches belong to the public.
“It’s everybody’s beach. It’s everybody’s ocean!," beach visitor Dennis Hansen said in disbelief when he learned about the new law.
The law also takes away a local city or county’s ability to restrict private beaches. So the next time you pick a perfect spot along the sandy shore, don’t be surprised if a private property owner asks you to move.
Craig Towns believes the law is only fair.
“If you’re going to make the investment and spend the money and time down here, you deserve your own private space,” he said.
His wife, Heather, disagrees, "I kinda like the open feel. I would not be happy to see sections of the beach roped off and be forced into the more crowded public areas.”