Realtor.com: America’s Most Affordable Beach Towns

Looking for that dream house by sand and surf but not sure where to start? Realtor.com has done the research for you and found the most affordable — and least affordable — beach towns in the United States:

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Is it a House or a Vessel? Floating Homes and the Landmark Supreme Court Ruling that Expanded Their Rights

Riviera Beach Marina; Riviera Beach, Florida

Of the hundreds of homes lining the waterfront in Riviera Beach, Florida, Fane Lozman’s was a bit…unique. A 60-by-12-foot plywood structure plopped atop empty bilge space that kept it afloat, the floating home contained no engine, no rudder, no bow, and no sails; unlike neighboring houseboats, it had no means of self-propulsion, and could only travel when towed. Land based utilities, in the form of an extension cord and garden hose, provided the home with its energy and running water, and sewer lines connected it to the septic system of its dock.

Fane Lozman’s floating home

That isn’t to say that Lozman’s home lacked for charm; French doors on three of its sides opened up to views of the Atlantic, and its water system, if a bit crude, allowed for a full-use bathroom and kitchen. A sitting room, private bedroom, and closet space rounded out the first floor, and a stairway led to a quaint second story office space.

In the latest of a string of legal disputes concerning the peculiar floating home, owner Fane Lozman is suing the city of Riviera Beach for $365,000 in restitution for seizing and destroying the structure, as a result of two court rulings that were later overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

The story begins in 2006, when the city of Riviera Beach made public their plans to seize 2,200 homes via eminent domain, along with the public marina, to sell to a private developer. Lozman was among the many Riviera Beach residents who rallied against the governmental seizure, which was ultimately prevented from happening.

Early rendering of the Riviera Beach Marina redevelopment

In what can perhaps best be described as an act of petty retaliation for his outspoken opposition to their development aspirations a few years earlier, the city made several unsuccessful attempts to evict Lozman from the marina. In 2009, with the help of a federal admiralty lawsuit alleging that Lozman’s home was in violation of federal maritime law, Riviera Beach was finally able to seize Lozman’s home.

In district court, the city argued that Lozman’s home was in fact a vessel, since it was capable of transportation on water, and Lozman should therefore have been paying dockage fees for the three years that it had been moored in the city’s marina. The court ruled in the city’s favor, on the basis that the structure’s capacity for transportation qualified it as a vessel, rather than a home. Since vessels fall under what is known as admiral jurisdiction, placing them in the legal domain of federal maritime authorities, Lozman’s home was found to be in violation of admiral law since it had avoided federal inspection, dockage fees, and other regulations to which all waterborne ships are subject. As a result, a lien was placed on the home, and Lozman was evicted.

Lozman’s home, shortly after it was seized

Lozman filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals shortly thereafter, asserting that his floating home was in fact a home, and not a ship, and therefore subject to the same regulations and protections as ordinary, land-based homes. The Court of Appeals confirmed and upheld the district court’s ruling, however, echoing the lower court’s contention that the home’s capacity for transportation on water effectively classified it as a vessel.

The Court of Appeals decision was based on a passage from the United States Code of Law, which defined a ‘vessel’ as any watercraft “used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” First established in 1873, and re-codified in the Rules of Construction Act of 1947, this definition has remained virtually unchanged in the nearly 150 years since its inception, and has served as the deciding factor in a number of similar cases.

Deemed a vessel, and not a home, the structure fell under the jurisdiction of federal maritime law, rather than state-tenant law, with which Lozman had been complying.

As punishment for failure to pay three years’ worth of dockage fees and for violating maritime law, Lozman’s structure was ordered sold at auction, whereupon the city of Riviera Beach purchased it and had it promptly destroyed.

Lozman was incensed, understandably, by the ruling; his home was incapable of self-propulsion, and could only be used as a means of transportation when towed by another vessel. Other than being towed by another boat to the Riviera Beach marina three years prior, the home had never been moved, and it had been used explicitly for residential purposes ever since. Anyone with two eyes and a shred of sense could see, he insisted, that it was a home, seldom used for transportation. How could a vague and antiquated legal definition – the primary function of which was to ensure that commercial and other vessels operated safely and responsibly – overlook the obvious fact that this floating home was just that – a home – and not a ship?

Ignoring the fact that it was too late to salvage his home, Lozman decided to take the fight to the Supreme Court. In the outside chance that his case would be picked up, he reasoned, a victory would at the very least afford him financial restitution – and a sense of justice – for the destruction of his house.

Against all odds, Lozman’s case was selected for review by the Supreme Court, and against even greater odds, the rulings from both previous proceedings were overturned. In January of 2013 – four years after Lozman’s floating home was seized from him, and three years after it was destroyed – the United States Supreme Court determined in a 7-2 majority ruling that a waterborne structure’s capacity for transportation is not sufficient to qualify it as a vessel.

Of the 9 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, only Justice Kennedy and Justice Sotomayor voted to uphold the previous rulings

In explaining their decision, the Justices asserted that the definition of “transportation” – the conveyance of people or things from one place to another – must be applied in a practical, rather than literal, way. In other words, floating homes capable of being towed across water, presumably transporting household items along with them and nothing more, are not necessarily ‘vessels’ for transport, and should not be classified as such.

Accordingly, the ruling established an important legal precedent concerning homes and other structures that float on water, whereby federal maritime law cannot be applied in disputes involving structures whose functions and legal designations are ambiguous; instead, these structures must instead be governed by state law.

The decision marks a significant victory for the owners of the estimated 10,000 floating homes throughout the country. Federal maritime law tends to be inflexible and unfriendly to the interests of owners, relying on an outmoded legal definition that ignores the ways in which the disputed structures are actually used. Under admiralty jurisdiction, floating homes are often mischaracterized as vessels, making them liable for dockage fees, U.S. Coast Guard inspections, and a number of other undue restrictions.

Under the jurisdiction of state law, however, floating homes are much more likely to be recognized as residences, and afforded the same rights and protections – homestead exemptions, for example – of land-based homes.

This ruling was reached in 2013. Why are we talking about it now?

Well, four years after the Supreme Court overturned the rulings that saw his home seized, auctioned off, and demolished, Lozman has yet to receive a penny of reimbursement. He has already returned to court – the same district and appeals courts whose rulings were later reversed by the Supreme Court – in order to fight for restitution. Again, both courts have ruled against him.

Lozman asserts that the city of Riviera Beach owes him $165,000 for the destruction – later deemed unwarranted by the Supreme Court – of his floating home. He is also demanding compensation for his legal fees, to the tune of $200,000. “When the Supreme Court says something,” he contends, “it’s not for the lower courts to blow off their mandate.”

In a new floating home, Lozman and his dachshund continue to live in Riviera Beach

While the initial Supreme Court ruling sets an important precedent for future disputes involving waterborne structures such as Lozman’s, it does not carry with it an explicit mandate requiring the city of Riviera Beach to retroactively make good, so to speak, on their seizure and destruction of Lozman’s home. Neither the district nor the appeals courts have found the city responsible for compensating Lozman. The city’s main defense is that they had been acting in accordance with the law at the time; the Supreme Court decision, they maintain, has no bearing on actions that preceded it, only on those that follow after.

As improbable as it was that Lozman’s first case would be selected for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s even more unlikely that his new filings will reach the Court. While Lozman may be a hero to the thousands of floating homeowners across the nation, whose rights were protected and expanded by the precedent established by his case, it’s unlikely that Lozman himself will be able to cash in. He may have to settle for the role of martyr.

 

 

 

Chesapeake Bay: The Prosperity, Decline, and Restoration of an American Treasure

With over 150 major rivers and streams from six different states flowing into it, Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the lower 48 states. It plays a crucial role in both the ecology and the economy of Maryland and Virginia, the two states it spans, and has long been treasured for its pristine beauty and abundant, diverse wildlife.

Home to more than 300 species of fish and copious amounts of clams and oysters, Chesapeake Bay has supported one of the highest-grossing seafood industries in the United States.   It has also proven wildly popular among tourists, lured in hordes to its gorgeous blue waters, scenic shores, and the ample opportunities for fishing, crabbing, boating, and sailing that it offers.

The Dawn of Decline

Beginning in the early 1970s, however, Chesapeake Bay began to be plagued by a number of troubles, many of which persist to this day. Its rivers and streams, once a glassy, shimmering blue, had become enveloped in toxic green sheaths that permeated the air with an acrid, putrefying odor.

Its shores, once teeming with wildlife, were experiencing dramatic reductions in aquatic vegetation and animal life. Entire populations of fish were being wiped out, their corpses floating to the surface and washing up on the banks, in some cases by the thousands.

These problems, which seemed to crop up overnight, proved only the beginning of the sudden and steep decline that the bay would continue to experience. In less than a decade, Chesapeake Bay had become the poster child for human-induced environmental degradation, and all of its entailing devastation.

The Cause of Decline

What was the cause of all of this? How had one of the Eastern seaboard’s most prosperous biodiversities become its most polluted region, and in so short a time?

Intent on finding answers to these questions, Congress funded extensive scientific research of the Chesapeake Bay in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The findings of these series of investigations revealed that the problems plaguing Chesapeake Bay were largely the result of human activities. Construction, agriculture, and industry were found to be the primary contributors to the bay’s deteriorating health, because of the enormous amount of waste that each activity generates. These wastes, the studies showed, were being funneled directly into the bay by runoff, causing rampant growth of algae across the bay’s surface.

Algal blooms not only use up a great deal of oxygen that is present in the water, but they also block sunlight from penetrating below the surface. As algae proliferated across the surface of the bay, huge swaths of aquatic vegetation – unable to withstand the loss of oxygen and sunlight – were completely wiped out. Without vegetation, vast regions of the bay became uninhabitable, and the wildlife they had been supporting either dwindled or perished altogether.

Algae completely blankets the surface of the water in this Chesapeake Bay tributary.

Working Towards a Solution

In response to these findings, the governors of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, along with the mayor of Washington DC and the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, signed the Chesapeake Bay Agreement of 1983. The agreement signified their collective dedication to restoring Chesapeake Bay to its former grace, and outlined a number of measures by which they planned to do so. Each measure belonged to one or more of five basic categories: living resource management, vital habitat protection, community engagement, water quality, and sound land use.

Most of the legislation that proceeded from the agreement focused on the last of these categories: sound land use. Given that the leading agents behind Chesapeake Bay’s deteriorating health – construction, farming, and industry – were also those most responsible for altering the natural landscape, the Maryland and Virginia state governments recognized the need for stricter land use policies. A host of new laws aimed at protecting the bay from waste-filled runoff were soon implemented, with new regulations that specified which lands could be used for which purposes and which lands were off-limits altogether.

Waterfront development that requires the use of cranes is particularly harmful to Chesapeake Bay health. Cranes remove vegetation, which destroys wildlife habitat and erodes soil, which ends up in the water and produces algae.

Critical Area Law

One of the most stringent of these measures, Maryland’s Critical Area law, came right on the heels of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, and represented a groundbreaking advance in environmental legislation. It was the strongest of several laws that comprised the Chesapeake Bay Initiative, which then-Governor Harry R. Hughes had hoped would return the estuary to its former glory. By restricting development within 1,000 feet of the shoreline and disallowing any disturbance to land or vegetation within 100 feet of the water, Critical Area law sought to improve Chesapeake Bay’s water quality and preserve its waterfront wildlife habitat by ensuring the preservation of 5,200 miles of Maryland shoreline.

Only under exceptional circumstances – in theory, at least – could a landowner become exempt from these restrictions, by applying for a variance and receiving approval from the county.

Critical Area law pioneered a nationwide surge in environmental legislation that placed restrictions on development.   By prohibiting any and all construction on Maryland’s waterfront land, Critical Area law was expected to curtail further pollution of Chesapeake Bay, and thus ameliorate its diminished water quality, revivify its dwindling vegetation, restore its damaged habitats, and revitalize its waning wildlife.

So, did it succeed?

Unfortunately not. Today, Chesapeake Bay is just as contaminated, and in some areas far more so, than ever before. Several species of fish and shellfish in the bay have reached record lows, as have numerous species of aquatic plants. The two nutrients responsible for the algal blooms that continue to plague the bay, nitrogen and phosphorus, remain present in far higher levels than what is healthy and normal. And the bay is still ridden with marine dead zones – areas so lacking in oxygen that they cannot support plant or animal life – that render the bay more and more uninhabitable.

Swirls of green and black represent the unhealthy amount of nutrients present in the bay.

Why did it fail?

A number of follow-up studies have been conducted in order to determine why it is that Chesapeake Bay’s deterioration has persisted in spite of the introduction of so much, and such aggressive, environmental legislation. One such study, published in 2008, investigated Critical Area law and the influence it has had on the health of the bay since its inception. The study’s findings indicate that while Critical Area law has proven effective in preventing large-scale development of Chesapeake Bay, poor enforcement of the law has more or less negated its impact on smaller-scale development. Lenient approval of variances and lax monitoring of compliance have seen the law tiptoed around – or ignored completely – by droves of waterfront landowners over the past three decades.

Solomons Island, Maryland – an example of Chesapeake Bay’s densely concentrated waterfront properties

According to the study, variance requests by owners hoping to build on their waterfront property had been approved at a whopping 75% – a staggeringly high rate that far exceeds what the authors of the bill had envisioned in 1983.

Those without permission to build – either because their variance requests were denied or because they hadn’t bothered applying – went ahead and built anyway. Less than a decade after the new law went into effect, structures of every imaginable type – gazebos, pools, porches, full-size homes, even mansions and lighthouses, to name a few – had sprung up across the Maryland shoreline, many of them well within 1,000 feet of Chesapeake Bay.

Though these structures reflect a brazen disregard for state law, the study found that the vast majority of these violators went unpunished. County agencies tasked with monitoring compliance were too understaffed and underfunded to supervise so many miles of coastline, let alone administer sanctions. For the most part, punitive action was only taken when waterfront property owners lodged formal complaints against neighbors whose illegal structures impeded their views or beach access. The fines these violators were assessed were laughably small, hardly enough to deter anyone from building illegally.

The study also showed that violators were rarely ordered to tear down their illegal structures. In one case, an enormous mansion on a small island in the Magothy River – replete with a lighthouse, pool, gazebo, and boat ramp – was built without a single approval, went unnoticed for four years, and, after finally being discovered, was permitted to stand (other than the pool and gazebo, which were ordered removed).

Illegally built mansion on a small island in the Magothy River, Maryland

When caught, violators often applied for ‘retroactive variances’ which, for the most part, were just as easy to obtain as those requested prior to construction.

Has anything changed?

How has Critical Area law been more effective in the past decade? Did the findings from the 2008 study lead to stronger enforcement?

A study recently published by University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic reveals that enforcement of Critical Area law has become even more ineffectual in recent years. Among the six counties included in the study, data showed that variance requests between 2012 and 2014 had been granted from 89% to 100% of the time. Those applying for variances frequently cited the term “unwarranted hardship” to justify their need to build. Without explicit guidelines by which to evaluate these ‘hardships,’ however, counties were given far too much discretion in approving construction, and proved far too accommodating.

In addition to woefully substandard oversight and lenient granting of variances, each of the six counties failed to keep adequate records of the few interventions they did make. Without proper records of each case they dealt with, they were unable to keep track of the waterfront properties they had monitored, and consequently, the variances they had denied and penalties they had assessed.

Algal blooms pervading Chesapeake Bay waters.

Another contributing factor to the rampant development of Maryland waterfront along the bay is the fact that most counties in the state do not have an inspector whose primary task is to examine properties for their Critical Area law compliance. That duty belongs to any number of field staff, whose primary focus is on other matters, such as construction grading and stormwater management. Additionally, many counties do not have their own boat, which severely limits the amount of oversight they are able to exercise. Anne Arundel County, for instance – one of the 6 counties studied – contains over 500 miles of shoreline, containing thousands of waterfront properties that couldn’t possibly be monitored adequately without a boat.

Skipjack boats, commonly used for dredging oysters, float on Chesapeake Bay.

The future of Chesapeake Bay – what does it look like?

It’s hard to say. A number of factors do not bode well for its eventual restoration, not least of which is the fact that an estimated 100,000 new residents move into areas around the bay each year. Additionally, many of the surrounding counties remain underfunded and incapable of policing waterfront construction.

Fines for violators remain low, often less than $1,000, and homeowners continue to build as they please. Approval of variances remains high, and Maryland’s tradition of local control means that any law that would grant the state the authority to permit variances would never pass.

It is unlikely that the federal government will intervene either, as President Trump just signed an executive order repealing one of former President Obama’s major environmental regulations, which aimed to protect American waterways. The regulation was initially issued as part of the 1972 Clean Water Act, which was inspired by the contamination of Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and Puget Sound. Completed by the Obama administration in 2015, the rule was intended to restore federal authority to limit pollution in the nation’s major waterways, as well as the streams and wetlands flowing into them. President Trump’s move to repeal the regulation precludes Chesapeake Bay from receiving federal assistance.

But there is also reason for hope. In 2010, the ecosystem health of Chesapeake Bay was given a rating of 31, which, although dismal, is three points higher than it scored in 2008 – a significant increase.

Additionally, recent polls have revealed that Americans are becoming increasingly wary of the threat posed by climate change. As more and more people across the nation accept the reality of climate change and the need to combat it, Americans are becoming increasingly receptive to policy aimed at mitigating our collective impact on the environment. Though perhaps no cause for celebration, the upward trend in national concern for climate change is certainly a cause for optimism. And as for restoring Chesapeake Bay to the state of prosperity from which it only so recently fell, it may be our only hope.

Public or Private? Current Battles over Beachfront Access of Waterfront Homes

A number of legal battles concerning the relationship between public access laws and private property rights for waterfront homes are unfolding across the country, four of which are being closely followed due to the broader implications of their rulings and the precedents they will set — particularly as they affect waterfront homes for sale.

Each dispute pertains to waterfront land that is privately owned yet falls under the protection of public trust doctrine – the legal principle that permits governments to designate certain natural resources for public use. Belonging to the public and private realm simultaneously, this type of land is frequently the subject of lengthy legal proceedings in which the right of landowners to exclusive use of their property is weighed against the right of the government to retain shoreline, bodies of water, and other natural resources for public use. Litigation is often necessary to provide case-specific interpretation of the rights and limits of each involved party.

Two of these legal battles continue to be waged in court, but rulings have recently been reached in the other two. In both cases, the panel upheld the public’s right to use land that is privately owned yet also designated, under public trust doctrine, for public use.

WISCONSIN WATER RIGHTS BATTLE

The first of these cases concerns the right of a waterfront property owner in Wisconsin to construct a dock on flowage waters that border her property, but which also flow over submerged land – the riverbed – that belongs to her neighbor.

Sailor Creek Flowage, Fifield, Wisconsin

Claiming that his ownership of the waterbed beneath the flowage gave him the right to exclusive use of the water flowing above it, David Lobermeier sued his neighbor Gail Movrich – who also happens to be his sister – for installing a dock over the flowage.

Citing the Wisconsin Constitution, which holds navigable waters in trust for public navigation and recreation, the panel ruled against Lobermeier on the grounds that the state’s public trust doctrine grants Movrich, as a member of the public, unrestricted access to the flowage waters, and consequently, the freedom to build a pier as “a natural extension of the navigational and recreational activities” that she is guaranteed.

The case is significant because it set the precedent for disputes involving the right to access a water body that abuts one’s property, yet also happens to flow atop a riverbed owned by someone else. The unique designation of the water body as a “flowage” – a body of water formed by overflowing – also factored into the panel’s decision, as did the fact that Lobermeier owned only a fraction of the flowage waterbed. Had it been a lake, for instance, and the entire waterbed owned by Lobermeier, the panel reasoned, the Wisconsin Constitution would have allowed Movrich to access the water, but not to build a dock atop it.

* * *

WHO OWNS THE DRY SAND IN NORTH CAROLINA?

In the second case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against a retired couple’s claim that an ordinance prohibiting them from building within a 20-foot wide stretch of beach behind their North Carolina home was a violation of their right to exclusive use of their property.

But reasoning that the North Carolina public trust doctrine guarantees public access to all of the state’s beaches – not, as in the couple’s home state of New Jersey, just the wet-sand sections – the Court preserved a long-standing North Carolina common law which holds the entirety of the state’s beach land in trust for the use and enjoyment of the public.

Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Had the Court decided differently, the repercussions would have been so dire, and so far-reaching, that a host of other coastal towns throughout North Carolina contributed money and support to Emerald Isle’s defense efforts.

For instance, important public services including emergency response, beach patrol, trash collection, and environmental conservation groups are all reliant on full public access to the state’s beach, and would have had to drastically modify or even suspend their services had the Court defended the right of private owners to exclusive use of public beach within their property lines.

Another consequence of such a ruling would have been the fencing off of privately owned beach properties from the public portions of beach, which would have proven disastrous as far as the appeal of these beachfront communities for visitors, and dealt a blow to coastal businesses that rely on revenue generated by tourism.

* * *

HALF MOON BAY FIGHTS BACK

In Northern California’s Half Moon Bay, desire for public access to a beach that has been closed to the public since 2010 is so widespread and fervent that the community has mobilized the California State Lands Commission in hopes of seizing the beach from its owner through eminent domain.

Martins Beach, Half Moon Bay, Carolina

Though the cost of doing so could reach up to tens of millions of dollars – a sum that is highly unlikely to be raised, even in the affluent town of Half Moon Bay – state Senator Jerry Hill introduced a bill which would appropriate money from the general fund and allocate it toward the cause.

The California State Lands Commission is unlikely to act until the three pending cases involving the property are settled, the most recent of which is a lawsuit filed by the owner against the Commission and two other government agencies he alleges to have violated his 14th Amendment rights by denying him exclusive use of his own property.

* * *

ZUCKERBERG vs. KAUAI

In Kauai, a public uproar has been caused by the island’s newest inhabitant – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – whose disregard for the state’s public access laws and indifference to the rights and desires of native residents is rubbing many the wrong way.

Zuckerberg’s new home – a 700-acre estate he purchased for $100 million – contains within its boundaries a number of public beach access points, a popular coastal pathway, and a trail believed by many to be the Ala Loa – a legendary ancient footpath protected for public use under the Highways Act of 1892.

One of two public beaches which flank, and at times overlap, Zuckerberg’s property

Historians, activists, advisors to the Department of Land and Natural Resources on Native Hawaiian Cultural Matters, and many others have been pleading with Zuckerberg to allow public access to the trail – which is in fact guaranteed to the public under the state’s public access laws – but Zuckerberg refuses to respond. Additionally, several community members have reported being accosted and threatened by Zuckerberg’s security guards for using the coastal pathway that runs through his estate. In June, a 6-foot tall rock wall constructed around the property was interpreted by many as an expression of the Facebook mogul’s indifference to their rights and wishes, as well as his blatant disregard for public access law.

The recently constructed wall surrounding Zuckerberg’s estate

Zuckerberg has been urged to at least create easements that make it easier for the public to utilize the beach access points on his property, which lead to two of Kauai’s most legendary and beloved beaches – Ka’aka’anui and Pilaa – but he shows no intention of doing so. According to public access law in Hawaii, the public is afforded unrestricted access to all of the state’s beaches, as well as the right to safe passage along the entire coast, even if safe passage requires people to traverse private property.

Despite the ongoing tension between Zuckerberg and so many of his new neighbors, lawsuits have thus far been avoided. If the Facebook CEO continues to deny them access to these public resources, however, expect the dispute to be settled in the courthouse. Public trust doctrine, the Highways Act of 1892, and common decency each hold that the residents of Kauai are entitled to enjoy any public resources that fall within Zuckerberg’s 700 acres.

* * *

CONCLUSION

For hundreds of years, open access to oceans, shores, and other natural resources has been maintained and enforced as an inalienable human right. A host of factors – overdevelopment of waterfront houses for sale chief among them – have led to a colossal decline in universal enjoyment of this liberty over the past century, however, as privatization of land continues to sequester more and more of our planet’s offerings for the sole enjoyment of a privileged few.

As beaches and shores continue to vanish underneath steadily rising seas, causing rapidly receding coasts to encroach ever more on privately owned waterfront, the problematic relationship between private property rights and public access laws will not only persist, but intensify. One can only hope that waterfront landowners, their governing bodies, and the general public can learn to find compromise; one that acknowledges proprietary entitlements and allows for waterfront homes, yet adheres to the idea that our planet’s natural resources are the rightful domain of all living beings, and not merely the few who purchase and inherit them. True democracy demands, and perhaps begins with, the democratization of land.

Florida’s Sinking Coast – Part 2

Mounting recognition of global warming and its likely effect on the Florida coast has mobilized many people in the state to take action. Though some continue to doubt the existence, much less the severity, of climate change, many Floridians are actively engaged in efforts to mitigate the damage that global warming is expected to inflict on their coast.

The election of Donald Trump as next President introduces a new set of variables, however – and a heightened level of risk – to the situation. Trump has long been a skeptic of human contributions to global warming, and his stance does not appear to have softened at all since being elected. To head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump recently selected Myron Ebell – a prominent climate contrarian – who is expected to help Trump deliver on his campaign vow to repeal the Obama administration’s climate change policies. Climate scientists fear that the Trump administration’s cavalier attitude towards climate change – and of the causal role played by humans – will significantly hasten the consequences of global warming, including the flooding of United States coastal regions.

Ironically, real estate mogul and President-elect Trump owns a slew of South Florida properties, some situated in regions considered to be at risk of disappearing underwater by the end of this century. Whether or not Trump’s personal and business ties to coastal Florida will make him any more sympathetic to the pleas of climate scientists, we may soon find out.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 22: Aerial view of Mar-a-Lago, the oceanfront estate of billionaire Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump and Slovenian model Melania Knauss will hold their reception at the mansion tonight after their nuptials at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. (Photo by John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

President-elect Trump’s Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago.

Regardless of what ends up happening to Florida’s coastal regions, many predict that the publicity surrounding sea-level rise may very well cause property values in those areas to take a plunge.

Even now, Florida’s housing market is already starting to feel the impact of sea-level rise. Compared with a 2.6 percent increase nationally, home sales in high-risk flood zones in Miami-Dade County dropped about 7.6 percent this past year. In the past few years, areas most prone to flooding have had significantly slower sales than other parts of the county. This correlation is in keeping with a nationwide trend: throughout the country, median home prices in areas at high risk of flooding are 4.4 percent below what they were 10 years ago. This is due, in large part, to the astronomical cost of flood insurance. As flood insurance premiums rise, property values fall.

076d15678e4335076a1266d97b11fc4da977eac2https://newrepublic.com/article/123216/miami-sinking-beneath-sea-not-without-fight

In addition to the increased publicity about the likely repercussions of sea-level rise in coastal Florida, people are also discouraged from purchasing homes in those regions due to the state’s lax disclosure laws. In some states, such as California, Pennsylvania, and Washington, state and local real estate agents are required by law to provide thorough and accurate disclosure of a property’s past history of flooding, as well as its risk for future flooding. In Florida, however, laws requiring real estate agents to notify purchasers about a property’s likelihood of experiencing natural hazards only apply to a limited stretch of the state’s coast. On top of that, there are no penalties for a real estate agent’s failure to comply. Potential buyers are given no guarantee, and no sense of assurance, that their new property won’t soon be underwater.

Localities across coastal Florida worry that if property values continue to fall, they won’t be able to fund the upgrades needed to protect their towns against rising sea-level. This is because much of their revenue is generated through property and sales taxes, and thus relies on having a large population of homeowners to tax. As concerns about coastal flooding continue to grow, and demand for coastal property continues to decline, these towns will fail to attract new homeowners and their current residents will relocate, causing their populations to shrink. Without sufficient tax revenue, they won’t be able to afford the projects necessary to combat the rising seas, and will thus be forced to flea to higher grounds.

florida-coast-sea-levelhttp://www.environmental-watch.com/2014/05/30/south-florida-at-high-sea-level-rise/

Some owners will decide to unload their coastal property before rising seas render it unlivable or unsellable, and while its value is still relatively high. Others will stay put, and continue to enjoy the wonders of coastal Florida living. Whether dubious of the precipitously rising sea and the dangers it portends, or simply willing to take the risk and live with the consequences, they will keep on living the Florida waterfront dream, one day at a time.

Florida’s Sinking Coast – Part 1

The earth’s ice is melting at an unprecedented rate, and sea levels are rising just as rapidly. According to a recent study, ice melt has caused sea water levels to rise nearly 7.8 inches in the last 150 years alone. With 2016 slated to become the hottest year on record, ice melt and sea level rise show no signs of slowing down.

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Many low-lying coastal areas throughout the world are routinely flooded, and many in the past century have become completely and irreversibly submerged. If global sea level continues to rise at this rate, coastal communities all across the globe may soon meet with a similar fate.

Coastal Florida is one such area. Parts of Miami, as well as other low-lying parts of the state, routinely experience flooding during high tides, and local governments throughout South Florida have already begun spending money on drainage improvements and pumping equipment. But how much will sea levels continue to rise? How quickly? How will this affect a Florida economy so dependent on coastal tourism? And what, if anything, can be done to prevent it?

Many scientists estimate that sea levels will rise somewhere between 3 and 6 feet by the end of the century. In certain low-lying parts of Florida, the shoreline is expected to move about 300 feet inland with each foot of sea level rise. Some worry that such low-elevation Florida cities as Sarasota, Venice, North Port, Bradenton, Punta Gorda, Naples, and Holmes Beach will either turn into islands or become completely submerged within the next 100 years. The following image is a projection, generated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management, of how Miami-Dade County would likely be affected by a 3-foot rise in sea levels.

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In addition to permanently inundating low-lying coastal lands, rising sea levels are also expected to cause a huge increase in storm surge and tidal floods along Florida coastland. Of the 10 urban centers in the United States that are most vulnerable to storm surge – temporary rise in sea level that is caused by storms – Florida is home to over half. Tidal flooding resulting from storm surge typically drains from the land in a matter of days, but the damage it causes is often substantial. Southeast Florida currently experiences an average of 10 tidal floods annually, but within the next 30 years, scientists estimate that the region will be forced to endure a staggering 240 floods annually.

In Florida, sea-level rise is not merely a science issue, says Boca Raton-based oceanographer John Englander, but “a real estate, finance and built-environment issue” as well. Should sea levels rise significantly within the next century, measures currently being taken to prevent coastal flooding – such as elevating infrastructure and buildings, building detention ponds, installing pumps, digging runoff tunnels, and improving storm sewers – will not be enough to keep the coasts above water, and people will be forced to evacuate many South Florida areas. This would inevitably lead to a spike in property value in higher-elevation, inland regions just north of the southern coast, like Highlands, Polk, and Lake counties.

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So what does this mean for property owners along the Florida coast? Well, at this point much remains unclear. Those living in Florida – citizens and government officials alike – can’t seem to agree on the merits of the scientific evidence indicating that sea level rise is real, or if the threat it poses to their coasts is legitimate. As a result, little has been done to prepare the state’s coastal communities for what potentially lies ahead.

Some folks – including builders, architects, realtors, and developers – are skeptical of the supposed dangers posed by rising sea levels, and view the whole thing as overblown. They point out that sea levels naturally fluctuate over time, and view the recent increase as just the current swing of a pendulum that will inevitably head back in the opposite direction.

Others very much believe the warning calls from scientists, and insist that we take heed. They worry that unless action is taken now, taxpayers will end up having to spend a fortune trying to reverse the problem later on down the road. But by then, some fear, it will be too late; much of low-lying Florida will have drowned, tourism revenue will have plummeted, and the state economy will have taken a nosedive.

So who’s right? And what does all of this speculation mean for Florida’s coastal real estate market? Stay tuned for Part 2, as we discuss how sea-level rise is already beginning to affect Florida’s coastal homeowners.

Paradise Found

For most folks, the appeal of beachfront living is the ability to open one’s blinds in the morning and watch the sunrise over calm waters just outside; it is the freedom to take a dip, a boat ride, or a stroll along the shore at one’s leisure; it is the luxury of enjoying a glass of wine from the deck as one gazes out upon the moonlit water below. For most folks, it is the myriad pleasures afforded by proximity to water that encourage them to seek out waterfront homes, rather than the actual homes themselves.

But every now and then, there comes along a home that manages to deliver on both fronts; a home that offers all the perks of waterfront living, yet also stands alone as an architectural masterpiece. The home found at 2-2680 E. Cliff Dr., #8, in Santa Cruz, California, is just such a masterpiece.

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Designed by Patti Boe, a realtor, artist and jewelry designer whose pieces have been featured in exclusive New York City galleries, this home was masterfully created to provide an experience similar to what one would encounter in an underwater cave. Inspired by her trips to the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, and Honduras, Boe sought to create a home that encapsulated the tropical feel of the Caribbean Islands. Every aspect of the home has been specially designed to embody the white sand, clear blue waters, and vibrant wildlife one would find while swimming in the Caribbean.

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Smooth, undulating counters of polished concrete run throughout the entire house, giving the impression of sea cave walls; etched glass of light-blue suggests the swirl of underwater currents; bamboo floors awash with curving blue hint at tidal waters lapping a sandy beach. All walls, ceilings, and counters appear to melt and flow into one another, transforming the entire space into an extension of the beautiful beach setting just outside. A tropical fish tank designed and installed by John DiGarlamo – who helped design parts of the Monterey Bay Aquarium – further blurs the division between indoor and outdoor, contributing to the overall immersive experience of being underwater. Cool white walls adorned with original artwork, seashells scattered here and there – some fossilized and embedded around the glass bathroom sinks – and a large iguana statue further add to the beach ambiance. Transitioning through the home gives the impression of floating through an underwater grotto of crystal clear turquoise water. Ample windows and skylights offer constant sea breeze and sunshine throughout the entire interior.

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From the bedroom, one is afforded an unimpeded view of the Pacific, all the way out to the Boardwalk. The Santa Cruz Wharf and Lighthouse at Steamer Lane are visible from the bed, and skylights overhead offer dazzling views of the star- and moonlit sky at night. Outside, a lawn and patio overlook the ocean, with 200-degree views stretching all the way to Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Lighthouse Point.

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A 13-step descent via a hidden pathway brings you to the best beach in all of Santa Cruz, where whale and dolphin sightings are the norm. Seals and otters flailing by the jetties, seagulls lazing above, and pelicans diving down into the waves to find fish are an everyday sight. With two jetties on either side, the surf is great; it is not uncommon to find professional surfers less than a hundred yards out, sometimes with film crews capturing them on camera.

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This home is every bit as breathtaking as the pristine swath of beach right in its backyard. As soon as you set foot in this livable work of art, you are transported to the clear turquoise waters of the Yucatán. Experience it for yourself, and make every day a Caribbean vacation!

Celebrity Beachfront Living

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Leonardo DiCaprio put his Malibu beach house on the market last month, after 18 years of ownership. His asking price? A cool $10.95 million.

DiCaprio purchased the home in 1998, on the heels of the release of Titanic – the colossally popular film that catapulted him into mega stardom. The modern, bungalow-style house is modestly sized – just 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and built on a lot that is less than one-fifth of an acre – but is listed at almost seven times the cost of what DiCaprio originally paid for it.

The house underwent a number of renovations while owned by the Academy Award winner, however, including a new wooden deck – replete with Pacific Ocean-facing hot tub – and a recently upgraded kitchen.

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The home also offers a spacious patio with a stairway leading directly to Carbon Beach – a popular spot among the town’s many celebrities. A gem among Malibu beach real estate, the house is expected to fetch its full listing price, if not more.

Another celebrity-owned oceanfront estate currently up for sale – hip-hop star Lil Wayne’s Miami Beach mansion – is a bigger, flashier alternative to DiCaprio’s quaint, 1,765-square-foot bungalow.

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At 15,101-square-feet, the three-story home contains nine bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a movie theater, a rooftop skate park, a professional recording studio, a shark tank, and even a separate, three-bedroom guesthouse.

The rapper – whose real name is Dwayne Carter Jr. – initially listed the home in April of 2015 for $18 million, but dropped the price to $14 million in July of this year when it failed to generate serious interest among buyers. Less than two months later, Carter Jr. again lowered the price of the mansion, this time to $12 million – $6 million below its original listing.

With a heavily-windowed façade of colliding geometric planes, the house – painted entirely white, inside and out – boasts a sleek, modern aesthetic. The pool and palm trees in the backyard of the house further contribute to the home’s distinctly-Miami look and feel, as do the koi pond, the glass elevator, and its carefully manicured lawns. A narrow pier lining the water’s edge leads to a private boating dock.

The house received news coverage in August of this year, when it was descended upon by SWAT teams who were responding to a caller claiming that a man had been shot at the home. The SWAT team members reportedly conducted a thorough search and found nothing to substantiate the claims.

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It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the estate will soon sell, or if Lil Wayne will have to further slash its asking price, and stomach the loss on his investment. The house is perched atop La Gorce Island – one of the premier islands off of Miami Beach – and it overlooks a canal leading into Biscayne Bay. At $795 per square foot, the home is priced well below the $965-per-square-foot average among homes on La Gorce Island.

Coastline Sustainability

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Public beach along the coasts of the United States has become increasingly privatized and developed over the past half-century. Accompanying this development has been a massive influx of fences, barricades, jetties, and other barriers intended to keep the public away from these privately owned beaches. According to a growing number of recent reports by scientists and environmentalists, these types of barriers play an enormous role in the destruction of our coasts.

The 1960s marked the beginning of the rampant development of shoreline property along our coasts. The efforts of oceanfront property owners, private homeowners’ associations, and coastal municipalities to restrict public access to beaches – and thereby ensure the exclusivity and marketability of their properties – have led to the increasing privatization of America’s sandy shores. As once-public stretches of beach became privately owned, a number of unsustainable development practices proliferated.

Tidal lands, instrumental in soaking up floodwaters, were drained and developed. Sand dunes, which play a crucial role in blocking rising tides, were bulldozed to the ground to maximize ocean views. Jetties, sea walls, and bulkheads were constructed to defend against the assault of incoming tides, but ended up accelerating erosion. Landowners went to great lengths to wall off their stretches of beach from the public, and to delineate their oceanfront property from that of their neighbors. Dikes, fences, and other physical barriers were thrown up by the heap.

According to a New York Times article published in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, these measures contribute significantly to the damage inflicted on coastal lands by hurricanes. The development of tidal lands and the removal of sand dunes have left the Eastern and Southern Seaboards increasingly vulnerable to the assault of hurricanes and other storms. Without tidal lands to soak up floodwaters, or sand dunes to serve as buffers between the ocean and the coast, coastal lands have been subjected to vicious damage at the hands of coastal storms. Jetties, sea walls, bulkheads, fences, and all other sorts of barricades erected by developers to lessen the effects of tidal waters are no match against the powerful winds and tides of such storms, and they are invariably washed ashore at tremendous speeds, and at great costs.

Even without the added impact of hurricanes and storms, these measures – particularly the development of tidal lands and the removal of sand dunes – have made much of our coastline far more susceptible to the effects of erosion and rising sea levels. Without these natural buffers, coastal lands all across the nation are at far greater risk of being eroded, and of being battered by storms.

According to a growing number of scientists, our best defense against the destruction of our coasts would be to declare our coasts public again. An “open beaches” act would put a stop to the harmful – and futile – efforts by private property owners to hold back the sea. It would put an end to the fencing off of public beaches as private domain. And it would better ensure the future of America’s increasingly threatened coasts.

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Unbeknownst to the average beachgoer or coastal tourist, privately owned land comprises a sizable portion of our nation’s public beaches. As shown in the above picture of a coastal town in north Virginia, property lines for oceanfront lots frequently spill over onto adjacent beach land, sometimes even extending well into the sea. Private parcels such as these often contain within their boundaries strips of beach that are freely accessible to, and habitually used by, the public.

Owners of such parcels are often entirely unaware that their property lines extend onto the bordering shore. Owners who are privy to this fact tend to regard the overlapping land as belonging to the public, and they welcome public access (or at least accept it, however begrudgingly). Others, however, believe – and have been known to defend that belief, with varying success, in courts of law – that they are entitled to sole ownership of whatever portion of beach that falls within their property lines, and that public access should be restricted.

The relationship between public beach access and private property rights is a sticky, often complicated issue that has been the subject of countless legal disputes between private owners and municipal or state governments. The aim here is to clarify this confusing issue, to outline how public and private rights to beach access vary among states, and to demonstrate why an understanding of this matter is essential when considering an oceanfront purchase.

Public trust doctrine – the ancient legal principle stipulating that a government may retain and protect certain resources for public use – is responsible for establishing the common law right of state governments to hold in trust all beaches for public use. Today, each individual state is responsible for articulating, interpreting, and enforcing the particular guidelines that determine which beach land may be designated as public.

In most states, public trust doctrine affords the public unrestricted access to all beach land below what is known as the ‘mean high tide line’ – the average line on the shore reached by water at high tide. Citizens are free to use all land located below the mean high tide line – what is referred to as ‘wet beach’ – for fishing, boating, sunbathing, or simply strolling along the shore, and private owners are prohibited from owning this land. Private owners are typically free to own the beach above the mean high tide line, however – what is referred to as ‘dry beach’ – and are in some states legally allowed to restrict public access to that land at their own discretion.

In Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia, it is the mean low tide line that demarcates public from private land. In other words, only the land below the average shoreline formed at low tide belongs to the public, and private owners can own land all the way down to that shoreline. The public is allowed access to wet beach, though it doesn’t belong to them, and they are generally barred access to dry beach unless, as in some cases, the private owners allow for public access, or sell the rights to public access to their local or state government.

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http://www.beachapedia.org/Beach_Access

At the other end of the spectrum, Hawai’i, Louisiana, and Washington grant the public unrestricted access to all beach land, and prohibit private buyers from buying any shore property, period. In these cases, the beach is generally understood as the land spanning from the ocean water at low tide all the way to the vegetation line, or where the sand ends. In Oregon, Texas, and New Jersey, private buyers may own dry beach that falls within their property lines, but the public is still guaranteed unfettered access to that beach, regardless of its private ownership; wet beach belongs entirely to the public.

When it comes to increasing public access to beaches, each coastal state faces a unique set of challenges. Different policy restrictions, economic limitations, physical barriers, and population needs all impact a state’s capacity to provide adequate public access to its seashores.

If you are looking to purchase an oceanfront property, an understanding of the public trust doctrine and how it relates to private property rights in whichever state(s) you’re considering is essential. If you don’t like the idea of tourists romping about on your beach property, and would prefer the solitude that private beach access affords you, you might confine your search to the five states in which beach access is more widely restricted to the public, and private beach ownership more feasible. If you are more receptive to the idea of a bustling beach scene just steps from your home, and would prefer the friendly, communal feel of beachgoers from far and wide sharing the beach in your backyard, you might be more drawn to properties in the six states in which public access to beaches is most protected.