1. News

Beach access debate lands in Pinellas court

Redington Beach is being sued by two two residents over access to the sand above the mean high water line. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
Published Nov. 9, 2018

REDINGTON BEACH — Two homeowners are suing their town over beach access, highlighting ongoing confusion sparked by a new state law making it harder for local governments to guarantee public rights to Florida's sand.

The lawsuit filed recently by Pamela Greacen and Arthur L. Buser Jr. zeroes in on an ordinance Redington Beach commissioners unanimously passed in June.

The ordinance affirms "customary use," or the long-standing use of dry sand for public recreation, including on private property. The state estimates about 60 percent of the state's beaches are privately owned, encompassing the dry sand upland from the mean high water line.

Enter House Bill 631, which sparked widespread backlash and confusion before going into effect July 1.

The law blocks local governments from passing ordinances guaranteeing public access to private beaches without going through a multi-step process. That includes getting a judge's approval by suing beachfront landowners who would be affected by the ordinance.

Greacen and Buser contend in their lawsuit that their town's ordinance flies in the face of the law and infringes on the town's private beaches, including the dry sand behind their $2.1 million home at 16120 Gulf Blvd.

Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the commission felt comfortable passing the ordinance based on advice from their town attorney, Jay Daigneault.

They felt even more comfortable when Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, issued an executive order diminishing its power. In a move critics saw as bowing to public backlash, the order prohibited state agencies under Scott's control from restricting beach access and urged local governments to do the same.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: New law Scott signed makes public access to beaches harder to establish

"We thought this thing would ride off into the sunset a little bit," Simons said, "but that appears not to be the case with Buser and Greacen. We'll wait and see how this plays out."

Greacen and Buser could not be reached for comment Thursday, nor could their St. Petersburg attorney, Paul Crochet.

Daigneault, the town attorney, wasn't available for comment Thursday. But a 12-page memo he wrote to commissioners in May spells out his reasoning.

The town would likely be exempt from the law, Daigneault wrote, because of a provision tucked in the bottom: "This section does not apply to a governmental entity with an ordinance or rule that was adopted and in effect on or before January 1, 2016." According to the memo, Redington Beach already had one.

Still, Daigneault recommended adopting "an even more detailed customary use ordinance" prior to July 1 to reinforce the first one.

He told commissioners at a meeting in May that it would be "just another bullet in the chamber" that would "foreclose the very, very small possibility," that the town's beach access would be impacted by the law, according to Tampa Bay Newspapers.

Greacen and Buser don't buy it, according to the lawsuit. It contradicts Daigneault, saying the town didn't have a customary use ordinance in effect before Jan. 1, 2016, and requests the court to render the June ordinance invalid.

It goes on to say that the government has violated their rights protected by the Florida Constitution by seizing their land without paying for it.

The ordinance eliminated "all viable use of the property, and caused damage to the value of the property in limiting exclusivity and privacy as well as development potential," the lawsuit says. "The city acted to gain a public benefit by regulatory actions in lieu of payment" to Greacen and Buser.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hundreds pack meeting on beach access in Florida Panhandle

Daigneault's memo addressed that potential and now tangible concern, saying the town can't take from the owners what they didn't have in the first place.

"I've lived on the beach a long time," Simons, the mayor, said. "We all know what the beach is for. It's for the pleasure and enjoyment of people to use and along the way respecting the rights of property owners."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or Follow @kathrynvarn.


  1. The city is accepting applications for its Commercial Revitalization Program. The city has allocated $175,000 for the program this year.
  2. Plans for the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District Board of Commissioners referendum March 12 call for a $100 increase in the annual assessment for single-family units. Tom Germond
    The winner will fill the seat of a board member who moved.
  3. The Florida Association of Museums has named St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman its Outstanding Public Official for 2019.
    The organization recognizes those who contribute to the museum profession.
  4. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  5. The Walmart supercenter at 990 Missouri Ave. faced fines in December for these storage containers in the parking lot. City officials are debating whether to make a short-term arrangement with the city two’s Largo stores this year so they can store their holiday inventory. City of Largo
    In the end, city commissioners say yes, with some reservations.
  6. A man holds an inflatable alien at an entrance to the Nevada Test and Training Range near Area 51 Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, near Rachel, Nev. People gathered at the gate inspired by the "Storm Area 51" internet hoax. JOHN LOCHER  |  AP
    A man who was urinating near the gate was arrested and a woman was detained for an undisclosed reason, Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said.
  7. Lifeguards rescue children from a minivan that their mother drove into the Atlantic on Tuesday in Daytona Beach. Ebony Wilkerson, 31, inset, a pregnant South Carolina woman who drove a minivan carrying her three young children into the ocean surf off Florida had talked about demons before leaving the house, according to a sister who worriedly called police, officials said during a news conference Wednesday.
    Volusia County Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano on Thursday allowed 38-year-old Ebony Wilkerson to leave Daytona Beach.
  8. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  9. Commander John Christensen of the cutter Seneca says the “downrange counter-drug operations are a vital component to the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security’s mission and our national security.” Photo from video/WPLG Local 10
    The crews patrolling in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Mexico and Central and South American made dozens of interdictions.
  10. The 70-acre MOSI site on Fowler Avenue is under consideration as a location in case Hillsborough County pursues the idea of establishing a movie studio here.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.