Should other people have a say in how you use your backyard?
Tammy Alford, president of Florida Coastal Property Rights, doesn't think so.
"If you have the deed to your property, you get to decide how you want to use it," the Gulf-front property owner said. "I may not want to use my property the way my next door neighbor does, but I have a right to be different."
Originally formed in 2003 under the name Stop the Beach Renourishment, Florida Coastal Property Rights operates as an information source largely for property owners who want to know their rights, Alford said.
Representing the group is Kent Safriet, a lawyer with Hopping Green & Sams in Tallahassee. He believes the biggest misconception about House Bill 631 — which took effect July, 1 2018, and limited recreational access on Florida beaches — was that it privatized beaches.
"It does not," Safriet said. "All it does is establishes a proper procedure by which customary use can be established on any beach in the state of Florida, and that process requires that a court of law adjudicate those property rights as opposed to politicians."
He compared it to an easement, which is settled in the courtroom rather than by county commissioners.
Alford, who said she currently is not a full-time Walton County resident, wasn't completely against recreational use of the dry sand south of her home. She just expected visitors to be respectful — something she said is common among Gulf-front property owners.
"If I want to share my beach, I can share my beach," she said. "If the person next to me doesn't want to, I can't make him, and I don't want to because I believe he has the right to use his property in the way he wants."
However, what's not mentioned in HB 631 is that taxes don't increase as a property line extends to the mean high water line — a 19-year average of high-tide points.
That means that although a property owner may have a deed that stretches to the water, they aren't paying more taxes than someone whose deed stops at the dune — a main driver behind customary use advocates.
"I rely on the tax experts to answer that question, and I know what my tax rate is, (and) I know what my deed says," Alford said. "People try and wrap HB 631 with so many other things that have nothing to do with them, and they're not being intellectually honest."
Alford said HB 631 benefits both beachgoers and property owners by removing any biases.
Her hope was to preserve her beach while also sharing it with those willing to help keep it pristine.
"We want everyone just to follow the process, and let's just not get all bent out of shape about it," Alford said. "Let's just let the process work and then abide by what the courts decide."