The Pensacola Beach land upon which Beach Club and Portofino Towers sit is exempt from ad valorem taxation, according to rulings made today by the First District Court of Appeals. The owner of the land is Escambia County.
The two decisions (Portofino v. Jones and Beach Club v. Jones) reversed rulings from two Escambia County trial courts that ruled the leaseholders at Beach Club and Portofino owned the land and, therefore, it was taxable.
Escambia County Property Appraiser Chris Jones had tried to argued that the condominium leases inextricably combined land and improvements, and thus the owner of the improvements also owned the land. The First DCA found those arguments to be “without merit.”
“This ruling should put to an end the beach tax controversy,” Ed Fleming, who together with Todd Harris, represented both Beach Club and Portofino.
Harris said that the decisions have no direct impact on the legislation pending before Congress that would give Escambia County the option, but not the obligation, to offer fee simple title to leaseholders in return for those leaseholders being taxed as fee simple owners.
However, he said the ruling certainly gives Escambia County a financial incentive for pursuing that litigation. He said Congressional action is required because the deed of Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County contains language that forbids the County from granting deeds, and limits the County to granting leases only.
Press Release: Portofino and Beach Club v. Jones
Portofino Decision: Portofino v. Jones
Beach Club Decision: Beach Club v. Jones