Article Courtesy of The Naples Daily News Press
By Thaddeus Mast
Published January 17, 2019
Winter visitors are flocking to warm Gulf waters, quickly
filling Vanderbilt Beach with towels and umbrellas.
Look closer, and one will see another sign of the tourist season in Collier
County: security guards.
Guards are again posted south of the popular Vanderbilt
Beach parking garage and access point to keep the throngs off private
beaches at The Ritz-Carlton beach resort and the neighboring Bay Colony
Public access to private beaches has been contentious in Collier County, and
other parts of Florida, leading to adoption of a controversial bill signed
by then-Gov. Rick Scott that makes it harder for local governments to argue
that private beaches should be open to the public.
The Ritz-Carlton beach resort in North Naples owns about 750 feet of
coastline just south of a public stretch of Vanderbilt Beach. Umbrella
seating with tableside service fills the private beach used exclusively by
Beachgoers hoping to sneak a blanket onto the private sands are met by a
Ritz-Carlton employee and asked to leave hotel property.
A change in umbrella colors marks the border between the hotel and Bay
Several high-rise condominiums created the Bay Colony Community Association.
The exclusive community owns about 2,000 feet of coastline south of the
The Ritz-Carlton, which is next to the public
beach access, designates most of the beach area in front of its
property for use by guests only on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, at
Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples.
Hired beach attendants shoo away public visitors to
ensure fee-paying condo owners get their promised beachfront views.
Vanderbilt Beach-goers Kathrine Schroeder and Kelsey Berberich spent a few
minutes behind the umbrella line on the Bay Colony beach before an employee
approached the pair.
“We were told to go in front of the cones,” Schroeder said. “(The attendant)
was very nicely, so we moved. I get it.”
The two moved as close to the water as possible, while still straddling the
condo’s property line.
“I hope we’re fine here,” Berberich said. “No one’s said anything.”
The cones along the beach mark the mean high-water line. All sand seaward of
the line is always public. People walking up and down the beach or swimming
are usually in the public space.
A property owner can own any beach landward of the water line. The dry sand
mostly used for sunbathing, picnics and sports is in the private area.
Neither Ritz-Carlton or Bay Colony representatives returned requests for
Collier County commissioners do not plan on opening the private beaches for
the public, Commissioner Andy Solis said.
“I think everyone here plays nice, and there’s no reason not to continue to
do that,” Solis said.
In the past, fences were placed along the Ritz-Carlton property lines.
Public outcry and county requests brought down the fence, although the
private beach attendant stayed.
An ordinance passed by the commission serves as a defense if a beachfront
property owner were to sue the county.
Solis was the sole commissioner against the ordinance, saying it only brings
attention to the issue instead of leaving the current situation lie.
“If someone tried to (take control of public beaches), we would have staff
talk to them,” Solis said. “Hopefully, it’s not an issue.”
Any further commission pushes toward public use of private land would likely
lead to lawsuits, Solis said.
Public beach debates have spread beyond Collier County. Redington Beach, a
barrier island town near St. Petersburg, is wrapped up in beach litigation.
Some beachfront property owners thought local open beach laws went too far
and sued the small town.
The public beach law passed in the 2018 legislative session requires
counties and cities to go through a costly and lengthy process to ensure
public access, Redington Beach attorney Robert Eschenfelder said.
“I think the people who did make (the law) made sure it was so cumbersome
and expensive that (local governments) would not go through the effort,” he
said. “They sided with the landowners.”
Before the statute, county public use ordinances illegally used private
land, said bill sponsor Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.
Public beach laws center around the concept of “customary use.” Beaches
traditionally used by the public for generations can be labeled public, even
if they are private property. Proving a
beach’s customary use is key in court battles.
“(Customary use ordinances) were a takings claim,” Passidomo said. “You
can’t just pass an ordinance and take people’s land.”
The new law states a judge must decide if public beachgoers can use private
property, Passidomo said. The bill’s standardized process avoids any
“The bill will make the process smoother and more effective,” she said.
“Without this, it’s the Wild West. There would be different methods of
litigation all over the place.”
Walton County, in Florida’s Panhandle, passed a customary use ordinance in
2017 that opened private sands to beachgoers and tourists. Before the state
law, several landowners sued the county, claiming the county law was
The state law trumped Walton County's public beach rules in June 2018. The
county is now going through the new state-mandated process, which could take