The battle for beach access continues in Walton County

The county has been pushing for customary use of beachfront properties since 2018.
Should private beachfront properties be open to the public? That's been one of the hottest topics in Walton County for five years and counting.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 7:22 PM CST
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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Should private beachfront properties be open to the public? That’s been one of the hottest topics in Walton County for five years and counting. It’s the discussion behind the county’s slow-moving lawsuit.

The board of commissioners held a closed executive session last month to talk about this case, which involves nearly 1,200 private properties. But the record of the meeting is sealed and will remain that way until litigation concludes.

“This is a very big waste of time, energy, and money,” Gulf Dunes Homeowners Association President Dr. William Burden said.

Dr. Burden is one of the hundreds of beachfront property owners fighting to keep their private beach exactly that, private.

“I mean, if you had people walk into your front yard and set up and you’re trying to use your front yard, you would be irritated. Now if they asked if you could stay in your front yard and then when you want it, they left that would be fine,” Dr. Burden said. “But with customary use, you have no control over your own property.”

Customary use of nearly 1,200 beachfront properties is what the county has been pushing for since 2018. A lengthy lawsuit with a steep price, already putting a multi-million-dollar dent in the county’s wallet.

“They can easily take that money that’s going to be wasted in the lawsuit, buy up properties to parking, bathroom facilities and beach access,” Dr. Burden said.

As of right now, the public can use any of the 50-plus open beach access and stroll the wet sands of private beaches. Walking along the Gulf Dune’s private beachfront, there are signs lined up across the sand, reminding the public to walk along the water’s edge.

Dr. Burden says the imaginary line between public and private beaches has never been an issue for him.

“Most beachfront owners are not stingy people who want to patrol their land and keep people off of it,” Dr. Burden said.

But living in a gated neighborhood, he said there are reasons for designated public areas.

“So they have a place to get water, bathroom facilities, and parking as well as access to emergency medical services,” Dr. Burden said.

Those are concerns to be addressed when or if it goes to trial.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to the county for comment, but they declined, saying they cannot comment on ongoing litigation. We also reached out to multiple groups supporting customary use and have not heard back.

As of now, the trial is set for May 16th.