House passes Pensacola Beach fee simple bill

The U.S. House today passed H.R. 2370, the Escambia County Land Conveyance Act, by a voice vote. The bill, authored by Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL-01), gives leaseholders in Santa Rosa Island the option to acquire fee simple titles to their property.

In 1947, the federal government transferred land that was part of the Santa Rosa Island National Monument to Escambia County. Since then, residents of Santa Rosa Island have been ineligible to own their land; they can only lease it. At first, businesses and residents of Santa Rosa Island paid lease fees, but not property taxes. Since then, however, the rules changed; residents are now required to pay both lease fees and property taxes.

“For too long, residents of Santa Rosa Island have suffered unfair double taxation, and have been denied the ability to own their own land. My bill lifts the burden of double taxation, and restores the American Dream of property ownership,” said Congressman Gaetz.

H.R. 2370 would require Escambia County, within two years, to turn over to Santa Rosa County the land that it owns there, eliminating the longstanding confusion surrounding county land ownership. The bill also stipulates that the non-federal areas of Santa Rosa Island dedicated for conservation, preservation, public access, and parking will all be preserved in perpetuity.

“Keeping Santa Rosa Island beautiful is extremely important to me, and this bill ensures it stays as pristine as ever,” said Rep. Gaetz. The Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners has announced it approves of the legislation.

The bill, which Rep. Gaetz called “a team effort on the part of federal, state, and local governments,” now moves to the Senate, where a companion bill has already been introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R- FL).

“This is how legislation is supposed to work,” Rep. Gaetz said. “People have pushed change for years, and now that change is finally coming. I’m happy to have been able to serve the people of Santa Rosa Island.”


4 thoughts on “House passes Pensacola Beach fee simple bill

  1. Here’s what the bill does. Note the impact to Santa Rosa County
    Escambia County impact
    • 1947, Congress conveyed Santa Rosa Island to the citizens of Escambia County
    o “…to be used by it for such purposes as it shall deem to be in the public interest or to be leased by it from time to time in whole or in part or parts to such persons and for such purposes as it shall deem to be in the public interest and upon such terms and conditions as it shall fix and always to be subject to regulation by said county whether leased or not leased but never to be otherwise disposed of or conveyed by it” (Public Law 564, July 30, 1946)
    • Escambia County leased property under 99-year terms to encourage creation of a tourism industry. .
    • Escambia County homes that are currently sitting on LEASED land owned by the citizens of Escambia County will be conveyed to leaseholders, if they so choose.
    • The property can be disposed of in any manner after conveyance.
    • Developers will be able to move in, offering owners huge sums of money to buy up land in large blocks, commercializing large swaths.
    • Precedent of enormous concern is being set that all conveyances of Public land would become reversible
    • Any action to undo the 1947 deed is an effort to take property from the citizens of Escambia County, the rightful owners
    • Protected areas in Escambia County are protected under the new bill.
    • The entire island is within the Gulf Islands National Seashore boundary, per the National Park Service.
    Santa Rosa County impact
    • This bill conveys the land in Santa Rosa to that county.
    • There are no protections for currently protected land in Santa Rosa County.
    • Per the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, Santa Rosa County is considering plans to enhance a marina at Navarre Beach
    • The proposed enhancements include dredging a channel through Santa Rosa Island
    • Dredging could cut off public access to local beaches and have sizable impacts on the estuaries and wetlands that support wildlife habitat at Gulf Island National Seashore.
    o Not only would this destroy estuaries, wetlands and negatively impact fisheries and water quality, but it would, at the American taxpayer’s expense, further destabilize an already unstable strip of sand, putting lives, private property, and public infrastructure at risk.
    • “Barrier islands form to protect coastal areas. They are critical to healthy environments. Intact islands are important protection from rising waters, tides, and storm damage, so artificially breaching a barrier island is rarely good ecological practice.”
    • The National Park Service, in a statement for the record on a similar bill in the 113th Congress, recommended several amendments to the bill that would authorize the conveyance in a manner consistent with Congressional intent. Those changes have not been made.

  2. I agree with Andrew Strebeck.
    If this bill passes will the residents begin to pay for having the sand replaced on the sandbar they built their houses on? If it’s private land it’s an owner’s responsibility and expense. Are they now going to pay taxes on the land, if not, why not?

  3. Let’s see …. it’s currently “public” property, and I’m a member of the “public”, yet I will have no right to purchase title to this (my)property the government is going to just hand over to the lessees? That ain’t right! So long as it’s a “lease” ….. just go back to taxing them only on the value of their improvements …. that right & proper arrangement was working fine till FL politicians got greedy for more tax dollars. I do not agree with converting the land over to fee simple title …. unless the purchase of that title is going to be open to the public. Current lessees should not get a special privilege/right/deal to purchase title to that public land simply because they purchased a “lease” on it at some point in the past. By rights, they should have to pay full market value for the public land upon which their improvements sit. Of course, full market value can only be determined by opening the sale of it to the public and that would be quite impractical at this point … and why I say we should go back to the old system that worked so well of taxing them only upon their improvements and letting it remain public land subject to restrictions as determined by the SRIA. It’s the only fair solution for both the current lessees and the rest of the public who actually own the property. (And btw, let’s have no more high-rises on Navarre Beach. Nothing more than 3 stories.)

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