Tag Archives: Water View Properties

How To Make your Waterfront Property Accessible

by Lucy Hudson

The total value of waterfront homes was $134 billion in June 2018, according to an article in Forbes. The same article indicates that due to changing climate conditions, changing tastes, and bounce back of non-waterfront homes, the overall average sales price of homes has gone down. However, waterfront homes are still the epitome of luxury and an enjoyable holiday retreat for people on vacation. So focus should be on making your waterfront home climate change proof and accessible so that it can be more comfortable for both you and potential tenants.

IoT technology for convenience

The easiest way to explain the Internet of Things (IoT) is that it involves smart devices communicating with each other in a network. Smart home devices come in the form of appliances, electronics, and speakers, which enhance independent living — especially for people with mobility problems and disabled people. For example, there are smart coffee makers that automatically start making coffee every morning, and window blinds that open and close themselves. There are also thermostats that adjust themselves automatically and learn your routines, and lights that go on and off without you touching a light switch. You can take control of these devices with an app on your phone, or simply use voice control to turn them on and off.  Personal assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home allow you to control various devices using voice control.

An entryway that is friendly to everyone

Placing a mat that says “welcome” at your front door will do nothing to help people with mobility problems get to your door or through it any easier. If a person using a wheelchair cannot access your home via the stairs, then ramps are a great solution. A modular ramp is great for all types of stairs and entrances. These ramps are usually made of high-grade aluminum, are semi-permanent, durable, and easy to maintain. However, if you want to make a ramp one of the primary features of your home, you can opt for a permanent wooden ramp. A permanent ramp is a better option for beachfront elevated homes. The ramps make it easier to get to the door but the entryway should have door frames that are at least 32 inches wide. If not, use offset hinges on the door to allow it to open wide enough to fit a wheelchair.

Don’t forget the bathroom

Accessible features that you can add to your bathroom include showers with rolling seats for people who cannot stand, and grab bars for balance. The shower should also be well lit and have a hand-held shower head with a 60-inch hose. To reduce the risk of slipping in the shower, install a non-slip floor and a walk-in tub. The soap, lotions and other stuff you use in the bathroom should be placed in an area that is easy to reach. In addition, install a riser on a toilet to make it easy for people to use who have trouble bending.

There are many other things that you can install or add into a waterfront home to make it accessible. However, it’s best to start by adding features that make movement in your waterfront home easy for people who are disabled or have mobility problems as they are the most in need of improvements.

An Office Desk With A Calming Water View

by Lucy Hudson

Stress is a significant problem in the modern workplace, and mounting evidence points towards thoughtful office design as the key to keeping workers relaxed, while enhancing productivity. The WELL building standard is created from the concept that the work environment itself can contribute towards stress, but by building an office with plenty of natural light, adequate air flow, green plants, and a pleasant view, this can enhance the mental health of employees. For those lucky enough to live on the waterfront, setting up a stress-free home office in such a peaceful location requires just a little effort.

A Dedicated Office

Separating work from home life can be a challenge, whether you live alone or with pets and kids seeking your attention. A stress-free remote work environment should allow you to take advantage of the benefits of flexible working, without succumbing to any overlaps with your personal life. Begin by setting aside a dedicated room in your home, preferably with that relaxing water view, which can be used solely for work. If you try “hotdesking” from your kitchen table to your living room couch, then you’re bound to run into difficulties.

Choosing Ergonomic Furniture

With this in mind, it’s important to invest in furniture for your home office that provides the best support for your posture as you work. As workers often sit for 8 hours of the day at their desk, the possibility of adopting a hunched position is high. Take care to put your health first and choose a desk and chair arrangement, such as a standing desk that reduces the physical stress on your spine and frame.

Securing Your Home Network

Few things cause as much anxiety in the workplace as the idea of a cyber attack. When you’re setting up your homework environment, you may not have access to an IT department in the same way that dedicated office workers do. Along with keeping your anti-virus up-to-date and following best practices for changing your passwords, take steps to secure your home network by installing a virtual private network connection to reduce the threat of potential vulnerabilities. You should also review your back-up strategy, whether to the cloud or to an external storage device to ensure that your sensitive data is kept 100% secure.

Establishing Boundaries

Make your family members aware of your working hours so that they understand the boundaries and know when you shouldn’t be disturbed. Equally, to prevent clients and other contacts from getting in touch outside of your regular work hours, you may consider using a separate cell phone for business purposes or even installing a business line.

Take Regular Breaks

Regular breaks are essential in relieving stress in any role, but some types of downtime are more effective than others. For example, snacking on unhealthy foods or using the time to vent about a work-related problem can contribute towards further fatigue. Conversely, an effective strategy is to carry out an activity that allows you to mentally disengage from your work-related tasks. As a homeowner with waterfront property, you have the perfect setting to help you enjoy a positive psychological break during the working day. You could choose to meditate, or simply take a walk outside to catch the breeze.

Your water view property is the perfect place to set up a home office. Put some planning into the initial set-up and all that’s left to do is to start working at your own leisure and connecting with nature during those relaxing breaks.

Create The Ultimate Relaxing Coffee Setup

by Lucy Hudson

Poets, painters, and writers have long celebrated the calming effects of being near the water, but recent science backs up the idea that water has a soothing effect on our psyches. Indeed, coastal living has been shown to improve our sense of physical and emotional health: it simply helps us relax. Now imagine yourself embracing relaxation with a warm mug of coffee in hand, gazing out across the rippling lagoon, or the crashing waves, and feeling utterly at peace. Once you’ve purchased and fixed up your dream waterfront home, next you’ll want the perfect coffee setup to become the embodiment of your zen-self.

Find The Coffee Variety To Match Your Personality

Do you like to start your day with a bold brew to wake up your senses? Try a dark or French roast coffee that tends to have a richer aroma and full-bodied flavor. But if it’s a pure caffeine boost you seek, lighter roasts can often pack more of a punch, as less of the mass of the coffee bean has been roasted away. The main difference between light and dark roast beans, however, is in the flavor, and a lighter roast tends to taste more acidic yet more fruity and nuanced. Of course, you might also prefer your coffee to taste more like dessert, in which case, flavored varieties like hazelnut or vanilla might suit you and pair well with a dose of sugar and cream. There’s also a wide array of decaffeinated coffees for any flavor profile.

 Make Coffee A Conversation Piece

Today most grocery stores sell a variety of coffee beans all with interesting sourcing stories – locally brewed; fair trade organic; artisan. Try exploring coffees from different regions and roasted by different producers to see what you like. It can be a joy to relax on your porch overlooking the water, sipping coffee from a far-flung region and comparing tasting notes with a companion. There are also many coffee subscription clubs you can now join to sample different beans every month.

Choose Your Brewing Method Wisely

There are quite a few ways to brew a relaxing cup of joe, so choose the method and the gear that suits your lifestyle. If you want a quick, single cup, you might opt for a single-serve brewer that takes pods or cups. It’s by far the easiest way to get your coffee fix, but the downsides are that the brew tends to be weaker, and there is considerable packaging waste involved. Another great option for the single-serve solution is a pour-over cone. This simple method relies on the slow drip of the coffee through a cone you place over the cup, but the trick is you cannot rush it. To get a rich brew, you must pour the hot water gradually through the coffee grounds. If you’re making coffee for two or more people, a French press is fairly simple and makes for a more full-bodied cup. Meanwhile, a traditional drip coffee maker makes a less bold coffee, but is pretty foolproof to operate, and has the important benefit of keeping the coffee warm until you’re ready to serve it up. Once you’ve selected the ideal gear for your coffee station, make sure you know the appropriate grind size for your coffee apparatus. It can make all the difference in your coffee being thick, ick, or just right.

 Claim Your Coffee Zone

Now that you have the best beans, the brewing gear, and an aromatic cup of joe in your hands, it’s time to retreat to your water view spot to enjoy a moment of zen. Designate a spot on your deck, or a seat near the window, with comfy, reclined seats for two and a side table for coffee cups and crossword puzzles. Sit back, sip…and enjoy!

The Ultimate Housewarming Party For Your Waterfront Home

by Lucy Hudson

A housewarming party is a perfect way to celebrate your new house with family and friends. It is also the perfect opportunity to meet your neighbors and make new friends in the area. Your waterfront home is something to be really proud of and having a party will show your space at its best. Here are some great ways to make sure that your housewarming is one to be remembered.

Install beautiful lighting

When you have a home on the waterfront, you are surrounded by beautiful reflections. You can use this to your advantage when you’re throwing a housewarming, and create a truly atmospheric backdrop with lighting. If your party is in the evening, fill your home with soft sheen lamps or candles in tea light holders. This is even more effective if you have decking in front of your home leading to the water. Your lighting will be reflected in the surface of the water, giving a feeling of even more space. Another way to make your home feel bigger and to focus on the water is to decorate your home with mirrors. It will give your housewarming a modern feel and fill your living area with reflections and subtle illumination.

Serve delicious local cuisine

One of the most wonderful things about living near the water is the availability of seasonal, local food. You can delight your friends by serving them a variety of fish or seafood. Provide your guests with delicate canape style dishes that they can eat while socializing. For instance, marinated shrimp or delicate white fish on skewers will look dainty and taste divine. If your housewarming is a casual party, having a barbecue is a great way to show off the local cuisine and guests can even help with the cooking.

Take the party outside

On a warm summer evening, take your housewarming party outside to look out over the water. Invest in some extra deck chairs, or canvas director’s chairs, that you can get out when you have friends and family over. Put a bar outside so you can serve drinks to your friends, or fill some ice boxes with beers for a more casual party. It’s a good idea to put some citronella candles outside to keep away the insects. They will also fill the air with a wonderful scent. If you are planning an outdoor party, make sure you start an early evening, so that your guests can see the glory of the sun setting over the water.

Enhance the atmosphere with music

Playing some good music is a guaranteed way to give your housewarming party a great atmosphere. Make a housewarming playlist on your streaming service for your party. For a more laid back affair, try some jazz or chillout music. If you are having a wild and lively party, hip hop, Motown, and chart hits will get everyone dancing. Try to include something on your playlist for each age group you have coming to your party. 

A housewarming party is a perfect way to celebrate your beautiful new waterfront house. You will enjoy a beautiful evening and possibly make new friends in your area.

The Bird-Friendly Waterfront Home

by Lucy Hudson

Designing a Bird-Friendly Waterfront Home

Waterfront homes are worth $134 billion nationally as of June 2018 with transactions for these types of properties ranging between 0.4-06% of all real estate dealings. Living close to a body of water such as a lake, ocean or river commands a premium price with great views, access to the water and even gorgeous wildlife such as birds. Unfortunately, bird deaths are also substantial due to collisions and crashes. Thus,

Discourage Birds from Flying into Windows

There are about 300 species of birds that live on or near the sea including puffers, albatrosses, tropic birds and pelicans. Alas, collision with glass is not uncommon and each year, bird mortality is estimated to be between 365 million to 988 million. The reflection of the water on the windows make birds believe that it is an extension of the waterway, sea or sky.

Although new glass technology is available such as UV, patterned, translucent or opaque glass, not everyone can afford expensive window renovations to their waterfront property. Fortunately, there are several ways to minimize bird crashes and ensure that birds are safe. Putting decals on windows and applying window films warn birds not to fly into windows. Chimes around your glass windows also alert them of possible dangers. Drawing curtains partially during the day also helps, as well as installing internal shades and blinds. At night, avoiding lights near windows that attract birds reduces collisions and crashes. It also prevents dangerous conditions for night-migrating birds that may be drawn to the light and unable to break away.

Making Your Home Inviting and Safe

Keeping your waterfront home bird-friendly is an important consideration if there are substantial bird populations in your vicinity. At the same time, you’ll want to entice birds on your property and welcome them. Putting a birdbath in your garden, providing food and nesting shelter are great options to encourage them to stay for a while or make frequent visits. Flowers, shrubs and other plants that are endemic to the area are familiar to the local bird population. They will likely stop by for food and shelter when they see native landscapes.

In turn, birds control insect and rodent infestation and reduce the transmission of diseases, and regenerate habitats. For property owners, they get to bird-watch right in their own backyards.

Waterfront homes are simply divine. They allow access to the water, offer great views and other water-based recreational facilities. Wildlife is also fantastic with the presence of birds providing pleasure to humans. Keeping them safe by bird-proofing windows ensure that collisions and crashes are reduced.

waterfront home decoration

Make Your New Waterfront Home Sparkle

The news is out: waterfront property isn’t as expensive as it used to be, according to a market analysis by Forbes. That means now may be the time to start looking and thinking about making that big purchase. And once you’ve completed the exciting task of finding and purchasing a waterfront home, there’s another difficult process: decorating. The commanding views and dynamic lighting of a waterfront property can make interior design even more intimidating and demanding than with a landlocked home. There are, however, many well used methods for setting up your new dwelling in a way that harmonizes the beauty of both the interior and exterior – a good idea for anyone interested in living well.

Living/Dining Room

The centerpiece of a beach house will of course always be the water itself, so care should be taken so that each room complements and responds to the view. Nowhere is this more important than in the living/dining room; the rooms that you and your guests will undoubtedly spend the most time. One of the most important design concerns is how light will play out in the room. Think about where and when the light will be best in the house, and how it will move over time. Can you place the dining room table in a space where you won’t be blinded every dinner? Can you set up a nice space for cocktails where the view can be appreciated in the early evening? Use the windows as centerpieces and design out from there. Mirrors can help make spaces feel bigger, brighter, and more open, without distracting from windows. Try to space furniture so that eyes of guests are drawn naturally to the view.

Bedrooms

Both personal and guest bedrooms provide a space to be a little bit more playful with decor, and to develop a theme for the home (just don’t go overboard). Bedrooms can be arranged around windows, but since they are smaller less care needs to be taken when placing furniture. It’s better to focus on picking colors and small objects that complement and highlight the exterior view than to distract with large decorative pieces. Try to treat each bedroom as a subtle response to it’s exterior. A guest bedroom (or street facing living room away from the water) can be a great place for a nice entertainment center incorporating a large screen and state-of-the-art speaker system. Or if you want to have a few spaces that are quirky, guest bedrooms are a natural place for this too.

Kitchen

The kitchen is perfect for working on thematic decor, as well as developing more interior focused design. Because there aren’t usually large furniture pieces in a kitchen, small decorative decisions can have an outsize impact here. The kitchen is also a good space to make unique; a room that says a little about the homeowners. It’s important to keep in mind both functional and aesthetic goals here, as this will be one of the rooms that gets the most use.

Tying it all together

Once you’ve got a theme picked and the furniture arranged just so comes the most exciting part: enjoying the view and fine tuning the details. After the big decisions have been made, setting up a home can be a much less involved, and more fun process of small tweaks and trial periods. All it takes is a bit of work, trial and error, and conscious decision making to find yourself comfortable and relaxed in a new waterfront home.

by Lucy Hudson

Private Until Proven Public: New Law Restricts Public Access to Florida’s Beaches

Private Until Proven Public

 

For many Floridians, there’s only one way to spend the Fourth of July – at the beach. Each year, thousands commemorate our nation’s freedom by flocking to the roughly 600 beaches of coastal Florida.  As fireworks paint the sky shades of red, white, and blue, friends and strangers sit shoulder to shoulder on the shores below – a fitting celebration of the hard-earned rights, majestic natural lands, and solidarity shared by fellow Americans. And Floridians have long taken public beach access as a right.

best fireworks shows

Cape Coral: the largest 4th of July fireworks display in Southern Florida.

On Independence Day this year, however, those in the Sunshine State will have a bit less liberty to celebrate – and a lot less beach on which to do so.  

A newly passed state law allows Florida’s waterfront property owners to restrict public access to the sandy shores that fall within their property lines.  Signed a few weeks ago by Governor Rick Scott – despite the impassioned opposition of thousands of activists and beachgoers from throughout the state – House Bill 631 effectively strips the people of Florida of their right, which has been protected since the state’s inception, to recreational access to the state’s coastal lands.  

Public Access to Florida Beaches: A Brief History

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.

Public trust doctrine – the ancient legal principle that governments may protect certain natural resources for public use – has long maintained 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 Florida, coastal land below the “mean high water line” – all parts of the shore that become awash during high tide – have been arduously defended by municipal governments as open to the public, irrespective of private property lines.  Wet sand has always been treated as belonging to the public domain, and while many beachfront property owners have fought to restrict public encroachment on their land, public trust doctrine has routinely been used to maintain the right to public access.  

Local governments have often adopted “customary use ordinances” to preserve these rights, by identifying the state’s long and storied tradition of public use.  In a landmark ruling in 1974 – City of Daytona Beach v. Tona-Rama, Inc. – the court enforced the public’s right to access a privately owned stretch of Daytona Beach by citing the deep, long-established connection between Florida’s coastal lands and its inhabitants: “No part of Florida is more exclusively hers, nor more properly utilized by her people,” the ruling proclaimed, “than her beaches.  And the right of the public of access to, and enjoyment of, Florida’s oceans and beaches has long been recognized by this Court.”

The case also established a legal precedent that would yield enormous influence in similar disputes in the decades that followed.  “If the recreational use of the sandy area adjacent to mean high tide has been ancient, reasonable, without interruption and free from dispute,” the court reasoned, “such use, as a matter of custom, should not be interfered with by the owner.”  The case of Trepanier v. County of Volusia, in 2007, helped establish a means by which customary use could be systematically proven, through “eyewitness testimony, expert testimony, and aerial photographs of the general are of the beach.” Often, just a longtime local’s testimony, together with old family photographs of a trip to the shore, would be enough to establish customary use, and public beach access, within a contested beach region.  

But those days are over.  With the passage of HB 631, it is no longer in the hands of municipal governments to proclaim customary use; now, that capacity belongs solely to judges.  Under the new law, customary use can only be proven in court, on a case-by-case basis, using ample and convincing evidence. Local governments no longer have the legal right to enforce public beach access to private beaches by passing customary use ordinances; the process has been moved to the judicial realm.  

Public beach access

While private property owners previously had to build their case, the onus is now on members of the public to obtain judicial affirmation of customary use.  To put it another way: for years, Florida’s coast was regarded as public until proven private, but now, it is private until proven public. Beachfront owners are now legally allowed to prohibit the public from walking along the sands above the high-tide line, whether by roping off parts of their beach property, constructing fences, or putting up signs.  

Opponents of the new law assert that it benefits a few at the expense of many.  Public beaches, they argue, are the heart of Floridian culture, extending all the way back beyond the state’s beginnings.  Others warn that the ruling will cripple Florida’s tourism industry – the lifeblood of the state economy.

Private beach

Florida Beach Laws Change

It is no coincidence that we celebrate our nation’s freedom and solidarity all along our coastal lands.  In commemorating our nation’s independence, we celebrate the rights afforded to us as a result of our freedom – the hard-fought liberties it is our obligation to preserve.  Chief among them is our right to enjoy the beautiful shores of our nation’s coasts.

As thousands of Americans descend upon the shores of the Sunshine State this Fourth of July – just three days after HB 631 officially goes into effect – we may do well to remember what it is we are celebrating.  We may do well to remember the words to an old folk tune we know so well – a Woody Guthrie song that has been hailed, appropriately, as a national anthem in its own right – and which has become, to many Americans, synonymous with Independence Day celebrations:

“This land is your land, this land is my land

From California, to the New York island

From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me

And we may do well to remember an earlier version of the song, with a lesser known but particularly timely verse:

“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.

The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’

But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.

This land was made for you and me.”

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

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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.