EDITORIAL: Still waiting on answers regarding the Hill Tide Estates beach saga

May 30, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – I realize a lot of you have questions about who owns what land and beach down by Hill Tide Estates. Our story from last week that talked about security cameras and guards saying “none shall pass” along the beach that so many have walked for so long stirred up a lot of talk and, as I said, many questions. We are still trying to get some answers, but there’s not a lot of talking going on between us and the entities who have those answers.

You would think the Lee County Property Appraiser would have some answers. Yet when I go to their site and thumb through all of the information on the Hill Tide Estates property, the property lines are vague at best and a large amount of information isn’t filled in yet. Words that I keep finding are “access undetermined,” including on the land that leads to the long dock that has recently been completed. That’s the one that goes out to the old round boat bumpers in the water. Access is undetermined.

I will pull out my favorite old Occam’s Razor, otherwise known as “The Principle of Parsimony” to boil it down to bare bones. Until we get more answers, that’s all we can do.

The state constitution says all beaches below the “mean high-water line,” or the wet sand, are public. Court cases have found that the public has the right to the dry sand parts of beaches in two instances:

• One is if the public has established a “prescriptive easement,” using a particular beach for the past 20 years without objection from private landowners.

• The other is through “customary use,” which is the “ancient,” peaceful use of the beach by the public.

When I go to the Lee County Property Appraiser’s site I see a property line that weaves back and forth on the beach from the state park property up to where the beach ends at Boca Bay. It certainly looks as though there is enough room along the entirety of the beach for a beachgoer to walk.

Here’s the other bit of information I know right now. On November 20, 2015 the two companies that purchased the parcel of land (almost 10 acres) at the southern tip of the island where the old FPL holding tanks used to be, adjacent to the Florida State Park land where the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and park is located, held a public forum to discuss what their idea of what Hill Tide Estates could be. The companies – Seagate Development Group, LLC and BNB Homes, Inc. – were still in the due diligence process at the time, so everything was still in the speculative stage. Chuck Basinait, an attorney with the Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt firm out of Fort Myers, spoke on behalf of the developers. 

When asked if the old structures that were still in the water would be allowed to remain, Basinait said they had discussed leaving it there. To me, that signifies assurance on Basinait’s part that Hill Tide would own those structures. 

“We may remove it entirely or leave a portion of it,” he said in the meeting. “We may keep some of it for purposes of historical significance, and because it’s a nice feature to have.” 

Another question raised by the public was whether beach access would be restricted there if the proposed development is built. “We haven’t vetted that yet,” Basinait said. “It’s one of those questions I would love to be able to answer. I don’t know why we would want to cut off access. We will try to work it out. We don’t want to take it away from anyone.”

It would be great to have some answers from the people who bought the property. We also have a call in to the property appraiser’s office. This all may be legitimate; it may all be a miscommunication. But without input from the property owners at this point, it seems a little strange. Silence speaks volumes sometimes. 

We will keep you posted on what we learn.