From commission meeting
NAPLES -- Collier County commissioners voted unanimously to do whatever is necessary -- including taking on what promises to be a lengthy and expensive court fight -- to preserve public access to a stretch of sand on Vanderbilt Beach.
Commissioners directed county staff to cite Moraya Bay for putting up cones and sticks to mark off a private stretch of beach and change the county law to prohibit beach renourishment in front of any beachfront property trying to restrict beach access.
Commissioner Jim Coletta urged an overflow crowd at today's meeting to come to the beach in front of Moraya Bay from 5 to 7 p.m. this Saturday to protest the condo's move to mark off part of the beach as private.
The crowd was on hand this afternoon at Collier County Commission chambers to weigh in against a move by a Vanderbilt Beach condominium to block access to a stretch of beach.
Moraya Bay, at the end of Bluebill Avenue, has raised beachgoers' hackles by marking off a stretch of beach and keeping people from using it.
Florida law says Moraya Bay owns the dry part of the sand out to the erosion control line, but one legal theory holds that the public has had use of that beach for so long that Moraya Bay can't keep people off it now.
County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow told commissioners that, if the county wants to fight Moraya Bay in court, the case would be of national scope and could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's going to be a fight, it's going to be a big nasty fight," Klatzkow said.
Commissioner Tom Henning said he was reluctant to rush into litigation over Moraya Bay until he can be more assured that the county would win.
"If we lose this, we're going to lose big," he said.
Commissioner Frank Halas, whose district includes Vanderbilt Beach, said a lobbyist for Moraya Bay approached him in December and said the condo would close off access to the beach if the condo didn't get approval for a beach club.
"I said basically, as far as I'm concerned, that's blackmail," Halas said.
Halas and Commissioner Jim Coletta said that if Moraya Bay is allowed to keep people of the beach, every other condominimum will want to do the same thing.
"I think we need to address the issue and take it to court," Halas said.
Coletta said a challenge to the state law regarding ownership of the beach is long overdue.
"It's about time and it should happen right here in Collier County," Coletta said.
If the crowd's thunderous applause in favor of fighting Moraya Bay wasn't message enough, commissioners heard a parade of public speakers urging them to go to court.
Little Hickory Shores resident Emily Maggio told commissioners she has used Vanderbilt Beach beach before there was a condominium in sight.
"You draw that line in the sand and don't you budge," she said.
The battle over beach rights has gotten ugly. On the day a dispute over public and private beach property is set to go before county commissioners, a luxury condo is hit by vandals.
Tuesday morning, staff of the Moraya Bay condos found vandals had spray painted their sign, beach chairs and umbrellas, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Staff members say it is retaliation for their decision to rope off a part of the beach as private, which has caused a lot of controversy.
The Collier County commission is talking about the issue today at 1:30.