For decades, Collier County’s beachfront in Southwest Florida has been a welcoming place.
Naples’ founding fathers ended the city’s east-west avenues at a street now buried under the sand. The extended avenues mean that, even today, each beach end has parking on every block. For a while, that was enough.
[This map shows beaches in Collier County. Any parcel of land shaded purple is public or government-owned land. Any parcel of land shaded orange is private land. Hover over the map to get more information]
But explosive growth soon made beach parking a big issue. City leaders threatened to start charging county residents for beach parking stickers. The county built the Vanderbilt Beach parking garage to help alleviate the coastal space strain.
So when the Ritz-Carlton first tried to mark off its beach south of the new garage for the exclusive use of hotel guests, the public fought back. It was Collier’s first realization that the beach might not be the publicly owned sandy park everyone believed they had an undisputed right to roam.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was called in to make sure the line was drawn in the right place. During especially busy times, the Ritz would post a guard to shoo away visitors who weren’t hotel guests. The county and the Ritz settled into an uneasy understanding in which the hotel uses the entire length of its beach for guests about 30 peak days a year and opens some of it to the public on other days.
Then one spring morning in 2010, visitors walked onto Vanderbilt Beach and found cones and signs marking off a part of the beach in front of the Moraya Bay condominium.
They overran County Commission chambers, demanding commissioners fight back. They did, voting to take whatever steps were needed, including going to court.
Moraya Bay eventually relented, removing the cones and the signs, and making court action moot. “It looks like a free country,” a 77-year-old Cape Cod woman observed as beachgoers spread their chairs and blankets over sand that had been off-limits the day before.
Moraya Bay developers argued they were simply trying to make the same use of its private beach as other Collier beach clubs, including the Port Royal Club, the Edgewater Beach Hotel, the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, the Ritz-Carlton and La Playa.
After a new County Commission was seated this year, commissioners received emails from the Naples Park Association and beach access advocate Graham Ginsberg about Moraya Bay again marking off its beach.
“Collier County government has yet to provide a solution and fairness for the public use of our beaches,” Ginsberg wrote in one email.
County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow told commissioners this summer he could offer a public beach access law for their review. It would be limited to Vanderbilt Beach and based on the customary use doctrine and the $20 million in public money used to maintain the beach, he wrote.
But, he added, it also might not be worth the trouble unless more beach visitors come forward with stories of being wrongfully run off the beach.
“My concern is that such an ordinance will be controversial, will bring out both the private property groups as well as the public access groups, and may result in bad feelings among many,” Klatzkow wrote.
Residents of Lee County shared horror stories similar to beachfront owners in Walton County, said Dawn Koncikowski, long-time resident of Little Hickory Island.
“Since the early 2000s, I’ve had a ‘No Trespassing’ sign on the beach behind my house,” she said. “There were break-ins in people’s homes and property, and the police recommended to put up signs. I’m just protecting my private property rights.”
Source: Naples Daily News