The Pensacola Beach Advocates joined the SRIA, the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce and Commissioner Robert Bender recently to thank the Sheriff's Office and first responders, who teamed with us to make Pensacola Beach Spring Break more family-friendly and safe! This year the public information campaign, coupled with enhanced law enforcement presence during Spring Break helped to prevent some of the mob-like gatherings experienced in previous years. There were over 1000 interventions, 42 arrests, and fewer evictions than in 2017 or 2018. We look forward to partnering with these folks again in 2020!
During a recent Pensacola town hall, Representative Matt Gaetz answered a question from Dianne Krumel, organizer of Save Pensacola Beach (SPB). She asked Gaetz where he stood on fee-simple in the wake of the 2018 Escambia County referendum, where more than 80% of voters supported a policy to protect public access, conservation and recreation lands and prohibit selling unleased land on the island. Gaetz responded that due to the effective misinformation campaign that Ms. Krumel's group and the Pensacola News Journal conducted, he did not intend to re-file the legislation this term. Without companion bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, this issue is essentially tabled until after the 2020 election.
In the meantime, the SPB people have stated that they are not interested in preserving access, recreation and conservation areas, but rather only want to prevent fee simple title. They presented the SRIA and Escambia County Commission with a draft ordinance that would prevent the Commission from ever endorsing fee simple legislation in the future. The SRIA will be discussing this proposal at a workshop currently scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26th.
The Pensacola Beach Advocates, however, are still interested in ensuring that our wonderful beach remains accessible and that future development doesn't turn us into a condo canyon. To that end, we will be introducing our own draft ordinance to protect public access, conservation and recreation lands and require a unanimous vote of all Commissioners before the Pensacola Beach building cap could be increased, in hopes that the beach can really be "saved" just as it is!
The other notable development in the last week was that the First District Court of Appeals, unanimously AFFIRMED the ruling by Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Scott Duncan that the Escambia County School District lacked standing to challenge the Constitutionality of Fla. Stats. Section 196.199(2)(b) governing taxation of leases on government-owned land. This ruling lets stand the trial court’s ruling that the land beneath Santa Rosa Dunes at Pensacola Beach belongs to the County, and is thus immune from ad valorem taxation. The original ruling prevents land parcels that have negotiable or less than 99-year leases from being taxed. Most of the condominiums on Pensacola Beach have leases that require some negotiation at the time of renewal, and therefore, are not required to pay taxes on the land under their buildings. This ruling did not change the status of those properties with what is called an auto-renewing 99-year lease. Those properties pay taxes on both the leased land and buildings.