Using a right-of-way is the wrong way to solve the beach access parking situation, some homeowners say.
The county recently approved a request by the Tourist Development Council to seek requests for proposals to convert county right of ways on Montigo, Santa Clara, and Walton Dunes to beach accesses.
“We’re simply starting the process,” said TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno, adding, “it is a lengthy process.”
But though Moliterno says the project is way in the future, potential plans to pave Montigo Avenue’s quaint, wooded beach path are causing a stir among the residents of the street north of 30A.
Owners claim that, as a result of early 1990s legislation, the land is owned by Gulf Shore Manor, which extends from Barcelona Avenue eastward to Pelayo Avenue, and north of Elm Street in Seagrove.
“In 1992, the homeowners who lived on the beach around (Gulf Shore Manor) decided they were going to put a fence up and stop the neighborhood from using the beach access,” said Montigo resident Tom Helderle. “Basically the outcome [of the litigation] was that that was property owned by Gulf Shore Manor to be used forever as access to the beach.”
“We fought to make sure we had beach rights and beach access rights,” said Helderle’s neighbor Tim Conway, who has lived on Montigo for nine years.
The county did not get involved in the legislation, which to Helderle raises some questions about their ownership of the 60-foot-wide right of way.
“When the residents of a neighborhood have to take it to court, you would think then that it is the property of the subdivision,” said Helderle. “The county never got themselves involved.”
But Clint Smith with Public Works says that although the neighborhood may have at one time had legal ownership of that parcel, a Florida statute may iron out some questions about the disputed ownership.
Walton County has been maintaining the property, and Smith says under Florida Statute 95.361, if an entity maintains a piece of property for seven or more years, the maintaining entity essentially claims ownership.
But if that is the case, current Montigo owners had no idea about the property-ownership switch.
“We’ve always been told it’s a deeded access of Gulf Shores Manor,” said Conway.
As part of the process of creating right of way beach accesses, county Attorney Toni Craig will be looking into the title history, past legislation and current ownership of the disputed parcel.
Conway said rather than replacing the vegetated trail with concrete, the TDC could better spend its energy “to make sure Blue Mountain gets parking,” as it is much more heavily trafficked by tourists.
The plans to use right-of-ways as beach access parking was brought before county commissioners at the Sept. 11 meeting, but Montigo residents say they only recently heard of the plans. Neighborhood owners received no literature or information from the county or Tourist Development Council about the proposed beach access parking lot. Helderle says he found out less than a week ago, when a county surveyor came to look at Montigo.
“Without seeing the surveyor, I’m not sure if anyone would have known about this,” said Helderle. “I think they probably could have done this a little bit better. Everyone is up in arms, and none of us have the facts. I hate to lose that piece of property … We all assumed it was ours.”
Moliterno said that the project, first brought up to the Board of County Commissioners at the Sept. 11 meeting, is in a conceptual and research stage.
She said it was brought before the BCC so the TDC could “go into those public workshops, start to research title,” a process that could take upwards of 45 days.
Moliterno said the potential projects will be brought up at subsequent BCC meetings, as updates are given by Preble Rish and County Attorney Craig about the viability of the projects.
“If they are seen as viable solutions and the county commission approves them, potentially they could be up and done in time for season,” said Moliterno, calling it “unlikely” for the project to go through the title research, public workshops, permitting and construction that soon.
“Nothing is quick,” she said.
The Walton County Tourist Development Council will hold two public workshops to discuss the conceptual plan for beach parking at Montigo Avenue, Walton Dunes and Santa Clara. The first workshop will be held 5 p.m. Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at the Coastal Branch Library, and at 9 a.m. Nov. 15 at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. Call Stacey Infinger at 267-1216 for more information.
“If a person decides to appeal any decision made by the council with respect to any matter considered, he/she will need a record of the proceedings and may need to ensure that a verbatim record of the proceedings is made, which record includes that testimony and evidence upon which the appeal is to be based,” said Walton County’s Louis Svehla.