Glenn Bergoffen told the County Commission on Tuesday he would like to build a dock about 300 feet long on the Crystal Beach shoreline in front of his house so he and his grandchildren could fish.
The idea had some crying foul.
That's because in order to apply for a dock permit, applicants must own land where the dock meets the shore. Bergoffen and his wife, Leah, who live at 615 Maryland Ave., don't own the land abutting the waterfront.
The public does.
In between the couple's sprawling home and the shoreline is a strip of community land, which runs for several blocks. It boasts a shell path used by people who walk dogs, watch wading birds and take in views of St. Joseph Sound.
Bergoffen, the honorary mayor of Crystal Beach and a retired businessman, has asked the county to vacate the public right-of-way to a portion of South Gulf Drive. It involves a 6-foot-wide swath of land leading to the waterfront, with a small area set aside for the dock's landing.
While some spoke in favor of the idea, others pleaded for the commission to just say no.
"You can't give this land away," said Calvin Smith, a Crystal Beach resident.
He said the tiny seaside community with natural areas of sea grasses and mangroves was one of the few remaining pieces of "real Florida" left in the county.
Others said they feared a loss of public access to the land and that a dangerous precedent could be set as others followed suit and as many as 14 new docks were built in the environmentally sensitive areas where wildlife congregate.
New docks could impede kayakers, snorkelers and swimmers accustomed to an open shoreline, they said. Boat propellers could shear sea grasses and docks would cut down on sunlight.
For Crystal Beach, it's the "moment of truth," Jane Charland said.
Bergoffen said he is a fan of the wildlife and the environment and plans to plant more mangroves.
And the public would still have a permanent easement, with full rights to continue to enjoy the waterfront, he said.
Bergoffen told the commission he bought his property five years ago with the intention of building a dock. He thought he would be able to build since aerial views showed a dock once existed in front of his property.
However, there was some question as to whether the original dock was public or private and the original permit apparently could not be found.
Two other private docks exist along the strip of public land, but they were constructed decades ago, prior to existing laws and standards.
After listening to a tide-churning, two-and-a-half hour debate Tuesday, the commission landed in favor of keeping public lands — even tiny chunks — public.
Commissioner Karen Seel made a motion to deny the petition "without prejudice," suggesting instead the Bergoffens consider making the dock a public one to garner community support and then reapply.
The motion passed unanimously.
It pleased many, but afterwards, Bergoffen said it wasn't likely that he would spend up to $60,000 of his own money to build a public dock.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do now.
"I just may build a tiki hut next to my house."
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at [email protected]