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Fee Simple Title Legislation Passes in US House

02/07/2014 9:26 AM | Anonymous
On September 9, 2013 we posted a blog article about HR 2954, a bill introduced by Jeff Miller to make fee-simple titles available to leaseholders on Santa Rosa Island. The PBA has been pushing the local and state officials to avoid double taxation situation that we are currently facing. View 9/9/13 blog article.

On February 7th, the Pensacola News Journal reported that the US House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would allow residents of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island to secure titles to their leasehold land and pay property taxes on it. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, now heads to the Senate. Please note that the PBA's position on the concerns voiced by the opposition to this bill abut giving away "public lands" are incorrect.

Read actual House Bill

Shown below is the article from 2/7/13 PNJ.

House: Santa Rosa Island leaseholders can get titles to land

Feb 7, 2014 - PNJ.com Kimberly Blair and Ledyard King

WASHINGTON undefined The House approved a bill Thursday that would allow residents of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island to secure titles to their leasehold land and pay property taxes on it.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, now heads to the Senate, where White House concerns about access to public lands could scuttle its chances.

The measure was requested by officials from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Miller’s bill would remove restrictions in the original 1947 deed barring Escambia County from issuing titles to land on Santa Rosa Island.

“This is a simple solution to a very important property rights issue in northwest Florida,” Miller said on the House floor before Thursday’s 220-194 vote as part of a larger bill involving several tracts of public land around the country.

Miller called it a “fairness issue.” He said the legislation would permit lease holders the option of attaining fee-simple title to their property “while also protecting current agreements governing conservation, preservation, public access and recreation.”

In addition, the measure would help ease management of Santa Rosa Island by allowing conveyance of certain land currently owned by Escambia to the island, Miller said.

The measure drew opposition from the Obama administration and some Democrats who are concerned the changes would revive a once-discussed proposal to reopen the Navarre Pass.

Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva said removing long-standing restrictions could cause access issues and potential damage to the barrier island’s resources.

“This land is public land, not land to give away, then to be dredged and used for a harbor for potential windfall profit,” he said.

Miller called those reports “absolutely incorrect” and disputed Grijalva’s characterization as anti-environment.

“This bill does not remove any protections from Santa Rosa Island,” he told Grijalvaon the floor. “Rather, it restates those protections that are currently in place with Santa Rosa County and Escambia County that is critical to this barrier island.”

Dan Brown, superintendent of Gulf Islands National Seashore, said Thursday night that Miller’s statement is “absolutely incorrect.”

The bill does not adequately define the lands that are to remain in public ownership and protected from development, as intended by the Act of July 30, 1946, he said.

And the bill does not reference the exact dates on current land planning documents for both counties that call for protecting the lands in conservation or limited public recreational use, he said.

“That means at any time in the future the county can choose to rezone the land or change the definition of what type of activities are allowed on conservation land,” he said.

That would open up an opportunity to take the lands out of conservation and sell them and develop them, he said.

“I don’t think that’s the intention of the current County Commission,” he said. “I think Miller and the county commissioners believe this law is preserving the lands in perpetuity. If you look at the bill with a lawyer’s eye, it absolutely does not do that.”

“And there is nothing in Santa Rosa County’s land plan that prevents the Navarre Pass from being dredged,” Brown said.

The pieces of land in question are:

• The area from Santa Rosa Sound to the Gulf of Mexico between Portofino Resort and east to the seashore’s Santa Rosa Area border, which includes University of West Florida’s 152 acres.

• Navarre State Park that borders Eglin Air Force Base, the site where there have been many efforts to cut a pass from the sound to the Gulf.

Department of Interior tried unsuccessfully to have the bill amended to assure public beach access in perpetuity at public parking and beach access corridors. And to ensure all lands zoned in preservation and conservation/recreation as of Aug. 1, 2013, remain in that status and in public ownership into perpetuity.

And it asked for measures that would prevent the dredging of Navarre Pass, along with having the opportunity for the lands held in conservation/recreation be donated to the National Seashore.

Pensacola Beach Resident Freddie Falgout, who owns two houses on the beach, one since 1957, supports the bill.

“I hope it goes through,” he said. “I cannot say enough about how happy I would be if we were paying taxes and owned our land and not leasing it. I would be a big asset to all the home owners.”

The House vote comes as local officials await a Florida Supreme Court ruling on whether county-owned land on Santa Rosa Island, and leaseholders’ homes, condominiums and town homes, can be taxed.

The court is expected to rule on two cases.

One was brought against the Escambia County Property Appraiser’s Office for taxing improvements on 2,400 properties on Pensacola Beach. The other was brought against the Santa Rosa Property Appraiser’s Office for taxing land and improvements on roughly 850 pieces of property on Navarre Beach.

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