Escambia County

Grover Robinson on Fee Simple titles on Pensacola Beach

August 9, 2017

In the 2040’s, the first 99 year leases on Santa Rosa Island will begin to expire, and both the Santa Rosa Island Authority and Escambia County will find themselves in an interesting position. While I don’t believe future commissioners will take someone’s property and remarket it to the highest bidder, one of the reasons why Chris Jones has won his tax lawsuits, there is no guarantee. The only guarantee those leaseholders have is a fee simple option, which is enjoyed by every other property owner in Escambia County.

This represents the true dilemma that the current fee simple legislation (H.R. 2370 – S. 1073) in Congress hopes to address. It’s unfortunate that some people and the local media seem to want to ignore this and rather intentionally stoke emotion with knowingly false statements, talk about real “Fake News.”

The legislation will not privatize anything that is not currently private through an ongoing lease. The bill clearly says this. It also says in black and white that those areas currently designated public, conservation, preservation, parking, sidewalks or any other uses – this includes all the area between the dune line and the water – are to remain public in perpetuity. Escambia County supported that kind of strong preservation language within the bill because I strongly believe in preserving the public use of those areas.

When opponents throw out inaccurate accusations such as this bill means people can develop the beach or buy and sell property on the beach, they intentionally attempt to mislead people about things that are already in existence today. Look at the beach, everything there was developed through a lease. Look at the Pensacola MLS and see how many properties are being sold now on Pensacola Beach with a lease. The lease does not prevent development, buying and selling, or even privatization. Try to park in a hotel parking lot without being a guest.

For 14 years and the entirety of my tenure on the Escambia Board of County Commissioners (BCC), the taxation issue has dragged along and prevented the beach from properly planning for its future. At some point people need real options and real solutions instead of a judicial stalemate.

For more than eight years I have worked on trying to offer real solutions. During that time, many people have tried to make me change the strong preservation stance Escambia County has taken; however, I will not yield as long as I am commissioner. But come November 2018, I will no longer be a commissioner, and I do not know if the next commissioner will have a strong relationship with our Federal delegation to avoid temptations to compromise on Escambia’s strong stance on PUBLIC lands.

Overwhelmingly, the theme I have heard from opponents is “I am scared of change.”

Unfortunately, change is inevitable like the tides that happen whether we want them or not. From time to time we may have to change our tactics, but we never should change our values. Towards that end, this legislation offers a fee simple option that is not forced on any leaseholder, but will not compromise on the conservation and preservation stance in this legislation.

If options are not kept for future boards, they will be limited to ration our greatest park amenity by financial means. Your access to the beach should not be limited by your access to capital, and I have fought for years to preserve that concept.

In closing, this bill tries to offer the BCC and the citizens more options for the future of the Santa Rosa Island. You don’t have to like the bill, but if we are going to find real solutions, there must be honest debate. Unlike the news stories, this editorial outlines the facts of not only in the legislation, but also the overall situation facing beach residents. All of the citizens of Escambia County benefit when government provides honest options as opposed to forcing biased constraints.

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  • Ames August 12, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Maybe a transfer of responsibility is taking place…
    Alaskan towns at risk from rising seas sound alarm as Trump pulls federal help

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/10/alaska-coastal-towns-sea-level-rise-climate-change?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Copy_to_clipboard

  • Ames August 10, 2017 at 10:11 am

    OK, so if they don’t buy the land they can’t sell or transfer the land….right??
    Will they pay taxes on the land?

  • Mike whitehead August 10, 2017 at 9:04 am

    The overriding fact in this discussion is that no one was forced to sign a lease (i.e. a rental contract) for the land on which their home or business sits. Land leases, even long term ones, carry an element of risk because YOU DON’T OWN THE LAND! If circumstances change such as taxability, insurance availability, etc. then the onus is on the lessee, not the land owner.
    This will be a multi-billion dollar give away, the likes of which has not been seen before. The citizens of Escambia County own this land and it is not up to Matt Gaetz, or any other politician, to decide to whom to gift it. The only equitable resolution would be to auction the property to the highest bidder with a requirement that the underlying leases be honored by the the new land owners.

  • Julia Pearsall August 10, 2017 at 8:46 am

    This does not explain anything to me. I have read the language in the proposed legislation, but do not understand what the legislation means in terms of implementation. What is the expected implementation process and what other possibilities may occur within the language of this legislation? Most of us either rent or own our homes and understand what those terms entail. What I do not understand is what is involved with changing a 99 year lease to fee simple ownership. I understand that the County would want the change to simplify assigning property taxes and increasing the County’s revenue. What benefits do the leaseholders receive? What benefits do non lease holders receive? What are possible pitfalls for the leaseholders, non lease holders, and the County? What happens when the sand shifts and the owner no longer has the property? “Owning” beachfront property was never really possible, which will be increasingly obvious in the years to come. There are reasons that this proposed legislation has not passed in previous attempts and should not be passed at this time.

  • Jim Schmitz August 9, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Great outline of the facts Grover. Thanks! Now let’s get this thing passed so we can move on to more important things.

  • A Citizen August 9, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    As a resident of Escambia County, how do I know I get fair market value for the land? Mr. Robinson, you and the other commissioners are representing me in this deal. Care to explain?

  • SD August 9, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Apparently there’s some question as to whether the bills only protect public access on the Escambia side:

    http://www.panhandlepolitico.com/escambia-news/analysis-fee-simple-beach-bills-may-not-protect-santa-rosa-public-access/

  • Ames August 9, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I paid for the space that is my property on which my home is. How much will the space where the homes on the beach were built on sell for?

  • Tommy Brown August 9, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Thanks Grover, its about time someone explained the legislation. I hope everyone will realize we still get to walk along the beach.