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Seawall dispute stymies planned $800K Gulfport waterfront home

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A couple looking to build an $800,000 waterfront Gulfport home had their plans thwarted when it was discovered they did not actually own the seawall, which was purchased in 1921 by a now-defunct company.

Nicole Paige Bramesco, 52, and Charles Ephraim Kichler, 54, are a married couple who live in Cape Coral but are hoping to move to Gulfport.

After paying $275,000 for a vacant waterfront lot on Gulfport’s Boca Ciega Bay, the couple spent 11 months working with an architect to develop a plan, obtained surveys and secured a $819,000 construction loan, hired a builder, and applied for a building permit for a new home located 25 feet from the water’s edge.

The address of the planned home is 4714 Trade Winds Dr. S in Gulfport.

When the city of Gulfport denied the application, the couple discovered the 25-foot setback was not from the water’s edge but from a platted lot line. In addition, the space between the lot line and the seawall — commonly known as pre-filled lands — didn’t belong to them but rather to a series of defunct companies which bought it from the State of Florida in 1921.

On Aug. 2, Bramesco and Kichler filed suit in Pinellas County against Eastman Boyce Company Inc., as trustee for C.W. Adams, C.A. Huntoon and George H. Leghorn Sr., et al; Municipal Liquidators Inc., Waterfront Properties Inc.; Whitney Bank, doing business as Hancock Bank and Francis McLaughlin of Gulfport.

Eastman Boyce and Municipal Liquidators are both dissolved Florida corporations; Waterfront is a dissolved Arizona corporation. McLaughlin sold the couple the property.

Bramesco and Kichler are asking the court to award them title to the land near the seawall, allowing them to build the house as planned. In the complaint, the couple argues the firm that bought the parcel in 1921, the Eastman Boyce, purchased several sections of waterfront plats elsewhere in the subdivision. This raises a possibility that neighbors could have similar problems with ownership.

As proof, they submitted an aerial photo shows one of their next-door neighbors has a pool right up against the platted lot line. The suit does not specify how far the pre-filled lands extend from the plaintiffs’ seawall, nor does it explain the dimensions.

With the sheer number of waterfront properties in Florida, beachfront land, seawalls and other pre-filled plats have become a common issue in ownership disputes.

According to FLWaterfront.com, Florida’s Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a state law which “authorizes the government’s unilateral placement of sand between an upland beachfront property owner’s property boundary and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, cutting off the property owner’s contact with the water.”

The Beach and Shore Preservation Act dictates that the upland beachfront property owner’s legal rights of ownership end at the pre-fill shoreline — recorded as the Erosion Control Line — and nourished beach between the Line and the new waterline is considered public lands.

While an upland beachfront property owner would retain traditional riparian/littoral rights of ingress, egress, view, boating, bathing, and fishing, local governments are able to cut off a property owner’s direct contact with the water without any recourse to the upland property owner.

However, providing an upland beachfront owner still has access to the water, the Court has held the owner does not lose protected legal interests when contact with the water is eliminated by a beach nourishment project.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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