Battle over the beach: Siesta Key residents block public access, citing 2018 law

Does a 2018 law give more power to waterfront property owners or does the public have a right to use beaches on a privately-owned property?  The confusion is stirring up trouble in Siesta Key.

The public beach on Shell Road is a favorite of locals and a popular spot to watch the sunset. It’s a small slice of sugar sand, but recently it’s gotten even smaller. A waterfront property owner has put up barriers of rocks, ropes, and stakes, along with large 'no trespassing' signs, blocking off what the homeowners believe is their private property line along the water.

Many who frequent Siesta Beach Access 1 are frustrated.

“People are coming here and visiting and it just gives a bad vibe to Siesta Key,” said Trish Lawler.

“As far as the signage, I think it’s ridiculous. She put rocks? Ridiculous. She’s basically trying to keep people away from access to the beach,” Nick Settlemyer added.

“People come here to relax and have their day off, come here with their kids and family,” said Peter Dunn. “I think that [the homeowners are] trying to violate the rights of the residents of Sarasota that have the right to use the sand.”

The Sarasota County Manager of Beaches and Water Access released this statement:

Sarasota County has many public beach access points along our 35 miles of beaches. Siesta Key alone has 13 public beach accesses, including Shell Road or Siesta Beach Access 1, plus Siesta Public Beach and Turtle Beach. The beaches and public beach accesses are open to the public to enjoy. Siesta Public Beach, Turtle Beach, and the 13 Siesta public beach accesses are not private, however, there are also private beaches/properties along Siesta Key adjacent to public beach accesses. Private property owners cannot block access to public beach accesses/property.

The Florida Constitution protects public access to any beach, seaward of the mean high-tide line, meaning any part of the sand that regularly gets wet from the rising tide.

But there is still widespread confusion about a 2018 law, signed by then-Governor Rick Scott, which appears to say waterfront property owners can restrict public access to the beach attached to their property, down to the waterline.

“So the county needs to make sure that they fully, correctly understand the law and protect the rights of all residents and not just one or two homeowners,” said Dunn.

FOX 13 News reached out to the homeowners to get their side of things, but as of Monday night, has not heard back.