Contrary to popular belief, the streets of Naples aren’t paved with gold.
But one of them is paved with sand.
And that could prove just as valuable.
More than 80 years ago, for reasons obscured by time, Naples’ founders penciled in a street west of Gulf Shore Boulevard on what is Naples Beach.
By reserving that right of way, they may have prevented the sort of ugly and potentially expensive drama that arose a few miles to the north, when the Moraya Bay condominium staked a claim on the beach from the dunes to the high water line.
Established law says beachfront property owners own the land down to the high tide mark. So if the law is strictly observed, the public would have nowhere to go at high tide.
The fact that the public has been making use of the dry sand for so many years provides a legal argument in favor of continued access, but when that argument is made it will prove a contentious case pitting private property rights against the public’s right to enjoy the beach.
Moraya Bay has backed off its claim of exclusivity, but County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow says that it is just a matter of time before someone, somewhere presses the issue into a contentious lawsuit.
But it probably won’t be in the City of Naples.
The presence of Gulf Street on the beach adds a measure of protection to public access, just as paved streets assure the public passage along rights of way inland.
Naples City Attorney Bob Pritt said he’s not certain Gulf Street provides unassailable access to the public, but it doesn’t hurt.
“That would make it very interesting to see what would happen if anybody tried to keep people off the beach,” Pritt said.
City Clerk Tara Norman said Gulf Street is shown on city plats dated 1923 and 1938. The 1923 plat shows it running from 17th Avenue North to 20th Avenue South. As far as she can tell from city records, it is still in effect.
“It’s never been vacated. Who would we vacate it to? Sea gulls?” Norman said.
In his blog, former Naples Police Chief Gary Young recalls controversies similar to the one at Moraya Bay dating back to the late 1950s. “Most of our disputes in the city were caused by Realtors who told prospective beachfront property owners that the lot ran from the street, Gulf Shore Boulevard or Gordon Drive, to the Gulf. This, of course, was a lie and led to calls to the police department with whines about people walking on their beach.”
Young tells how officers kept a copy of the plat map at the station “to show blubbering beach property owners just what their property boundaries really were.”
Young’s Old Cop Blog (http://oldcop7.blogspot.com/) goes on: “The founding fathers’ foresight had made the problem non-existent. Obviously, the founding fathers wanted to retain the beach’s use for everyone, not just a privileged few.”