Residents and County Commissioners speak out about gates in Sunnyside

Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 5:48 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It was a full house at Wednesday’s Bay County Commission meeting. The new gates standing alongside Sunnyside beach front have area residents riled up. A couple dozen of them filled the seats inside the Government Center, ready to be heard.

Sunnyside Park has a special place in the hearts of many Bay County residents.

“We are here in defense of what we’ve been able to use for decades,” one resident of the Gulf Vista neighborhood said.

“I grew up here. My family did. And I’ve always used the beach,” a second resident of the Gulf Vista neighborhood said.

“We have enjoyed it for decades,” Koren Daniels, a resident of the Gulf Vista neighborhood, said. “My children grew up going to the beach and now my grandchildren are going. And as my little five-year-old said, ‘Meemaw, it’s a tradition.’”

It’s a tradition that could be ending. Last week, gates were put in six access areas next to signs reminding people that the beach is private property.

“Just one day, decided to put these gates up with the no permissions and no permits,” a third resident of the Gulf Vista neighborhood said.

The gates were put in by the Sunnyside Beach Property Owners Association, a voluntary group formed by residents who have been paying taxes on that land for years. While they did get a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, it was pending.

Law enforcement asked them to stop putting up gates and the standing ones are unlocked.

“They claim it’s their beach. They feel like they have ownership to it,” Bay County Commissioner Phillip “Griff” Griffitts said. “They went out and installed those gates without concern and we have a problem with that.”

According to the Bay County Property Appraiser’s website, it wasn’t their beach to close off in the first place. It’s been in Malcolm McCorquodale’s name since the 1920s.

Now the family, along with residents in the nearby neighborhood of Gulf Vista and the entire Bay County Commission, are fighting to take them down.

“Don’t come Walton County our Bay County,” Griffitts said. “This is a customary use argument and this beach is for the citizens of Bay County.”

“We’ll stand firm in doing anything within our right and anything that we can do to support the effort not to close those beaches, not to put the gates up,” Bay County Commissioner Bill Dozier said.

“I am in agreement with all of you in regards to it needs to stay open to be accessible to the public,” Bay County Commissioner Doug Moore said.

“I agree with the rest of these fellas. That’s a public beach,” Bay County Commissioner Tommy Hamm said.

“So you’ve already counted one, two, three, four, you’re counting the fifth. You have unanimous support up here,” Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll said.

When NewsChannel 7 spoke with the lawyer representing the Sunnyside Beach Property Owners Association on Tuesday, he said things are up in the air because the deed is still in Malcolm McCorquodale’s name, who passed away in the 50s.

At the end of the day, this battle will be settled in court, leaving it to the judge to decide.

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