New court hearing date set for Walton County customary use case

Many private beachfront property owners in Walton County are going head-to-head with the county, fighting to keep their private beaches private.
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 6:03 PM CDT
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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Many people in Walton County have been waiting for a solution on the controversial customary use case for five years.

But for now, the case has yet to be settled.

Legal representatives from both sides met early Thursday morning for the case hearing. The judge was reportedly set to decide if the county’s settlement offer would be accepted, or if the case would go to trial.

NewsChannel 7 was told by county officials that the judge gave both sides another month, and a new hearing is set for June 30, 2023.

The argument began in 2018 after former Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 631, essentially allowing beachfront property owners to block off private beaches. The bill had overruled the county’s prior customary use ordinances. However, the bill allowed room for the county to legally fight for its beaches to again be opened to the public.

The county filed a lawsuit in 2018, fighting for customary use of the private beaches beyond the public being able to walk on the wet sand, which is the rule currently in place.

Meanwhile, the owners of nearly 1,200 properties involved in the case are fighting to keep their beaches private.

“Most of our clients and most of the beachfront owners do not have a problem with the public using their beach so long as they’re respectful. The problem is there is an unfortunate minority of people believe they have the right to do or say whatever they like,” Ted Borowski, an attorney representing many of the private beachfront owners, said. “And these private property owners want the right to remove them or have them removed in those events. And when the county filed the lawsuit, essentially what the county is claiming is that private property owners do not have the right to do that.”

NewsChannel 7 reached out to county representatives, who were able to confirm the new date for the hearing but said they cannot comment further due to the ongoing litigation.