The City of Gulf Breeze took some much needed steps towards a public safety issue on Monday when they approved installing a set of stairs that will essentially lead down to a public access beach on Catawba Street.
The city said access to the beach is a danger to citizens and the city felt it necessary to take appropriate action to install stairs leading down to the beach on the city’s portion of the property.
According to Gulf Breeze City Manager Edwin “Buz” Eddy, the city used to have a flight of stairs leading down to the shoreline before Hurricane Ivan wiped them out in 2004.
“There’s a dedicated right-of-way that’s part of a plat. A street was never built on this right-of-way. Over past 50 years, people have been using right of way to walk down to the beach,” Eddy said.
Eddy said residents utilize the right-of-way to walk down to the beach or sit above the shoreline to watch the sunset.
“People walk their dogs down there or sit and watch the sunset,” Eddy said.
The city discussed the matter at last Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting and agreed that the shoreline leading down to the water was a “public safety issue” since the stairs were no longer there. The city felt it was responsible for keeping its citizens safe in case they decide to walk down to the shoreline.
Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser said he went down to the location and attempted to go down to the water and almost fell.
“We have an urgent and immediate public safety issue,” Dannheisser said.
The city was originally hesitant to build the stairs since the government entity is in the middle of an arm wrestling match between residents who claim they own part of the right-of-way leading to the beach. Those owners live adjacent to the site.
“The council has made their position very clearly known that they’re intending to take all reasonable measures possible to preserve that access way to keep it open to the public,” Dannheisser said Monday. “With (the public’s) help, we are continuing to fight the litigation where the city has been sued by the adjacent property owners and will continue to do so.”
The city approved building the flight of stairs down to the shoreline, but not before ensuring the property they were going to build the stairs on was indeed the city’s.
“(Near) the last 20 feet of the right-of-way there is a pretty significant drop off. We just want to put those (steps) back the way it used to be before Ivan,” Eddy said.
Dannheisser told those gathered at the Monday council meeting that the stairs would be built by “the end of the week”.
“Recently the council expressed an interest—that is currently being considered by our attorney and staff—that if for some reason we do not prevail in that lawsuit, we will then look to acquire that piece of property by eminent domain so that it would be preserved for public use,” Dannheisser said. “That’s our goal, that’s our hope. There is no guarantee, but we want that to be open to the public for the rest of time.”
Community members garnered petitions and support to keep the public access beach open to the public.
Part of the lawsuit being brought upon the city argues that the property was never owned by the city to begin with. The mayor asked for the public’s help to gather any evidence from the past to show the property was never privately owned by the adjacent property owners to ensure the city has a strong case when they go back to court.