South Walton communities sue to overturn customary use

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“The answer is not to take our beaches. Walton County has for more than a decade been remiss.”

DEBORAH WHEELER @WaltonSunDeb

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Four South Walton communities have sued Walton County in federal court in Pensacola to overturn the county’s customary use ordinance.

They include homeowners at Seaside, Vizcaya, Grand Dune I and II, and Paradise by the Sea.

“The suit was filed (Tuesday morning),” Seaside homeowner Art Kahn said.

Kahn said the filing includes nine neighborhood associations consisting of 355 properties at Seaside. All of them have private beach ownership, but they are separate from Seaside Community Development, which is owned by the town’s co-founders, Robert and Daryl Davis. As homeowners, the Davises are represented in the lawsuit, although Kahn said Davis has not made his opinions public.

Daryl Davis said she did not know enough about the lawsuit to have formed an opinion.

The three planned development partners joining with Seaside Town Council members all own a private beach.

“We are suing primarily to invalidate the customary use ordinance,” Kahn said. “We have been denied due process under law by the county taking our beach and making it open to the public.”

Tampa attorney Dave Smolker is representing the neighborhoods.

“There are so many constitutional problems with this ordinance,” Smolker said. “The county has taken it upon themselves to be judge and jury without the courts making a prior determination. We have separation of powers. Determining customary use is a judicial function the county cannot declare or enforce.”

Kahn, a retired attorney, believes the county’s purchasing of beach property shows its non-ownership or it would not spend money to purchase beach accesses.

“I am sympathetic to the public’s need for access to beaches, but greatly disappointed that Walton County has let people down in dragging their feet in purchasing accesses. And now they want to take ours,” Kahn said. “The answer is not to take our beaches. Walton County has for more than a decade been remiss.”

Grand Dunes has 180 properties. There is a total of more than 600 properties included in the lawsuit.

“We were careful in vetting properties who wanted to join us,” Kahn said. “We wanted to include those similarly situated that have over the course of a decade have interfered with customary use and stood up for their property rights.”

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