It’s just 2,500 square feet of yellow sand, opposite the house on the other side of State Road A1A, at 2732 South Ocean Shore Boulevard. Flagler County government has been trying to convince Leonard Surles, the homeowner who lives in South Florida, to sign an easement and join nearly 100 other property owners who have done so to enable the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild dunes along 2.6 miles of beachfront in Flagler Beach. The dunes are expected to prolong the life of the barrier island against rising seas, especially the homes and businesses along A1A.
The easement changes nothing about property owners’ rights. It merely grants the Corps access to dump and shape sand into dunes, and to do so periodically, for maintenance, over the next 50 years. The parcel remains private property. Nothing may be built there, unless the homeowner wants to build a walkway that complies with city rules. If anything, the easement is a form of property insurance–at no cost to the homeowner. (See: “‘We’re Fighting For the Life of Flagler Beach’: County Urges Property Owners’ Cooperation in Beach Rebuilding.”
But Surles has refused to sign the easement. Monday, the Flagler County Commission authorized Al Hadeed, the county attorney, to pursue legal action against surles and acquire the easement by eminent domain. Surles is now the second property owner along that 2.6-mile stretch against whom the commission has authorized legal action. It authorized such action against Cynthia D’Angiolini earlier this year. D’Angiolini owns two parcels (at 2538 S. Ocean Shore and 2420 S. Ocean Shore). The eminent domain process is in its earliest stages with D’Angiolini, with a good-faith effort to negotiate, and the county has become more hopeful that D’Angiolini and the handful of other hold-out property owners will be signing.
That hope has vanished regarding Surles (he has put up the house for sale: it’s currently listed on Zillo for $2 million).
“It really represents a present and potentially future impairment of our efforts, especially when the project moves into the non federal area,” Hadeed said. The federal area is that 2.6 mile stretch. But the county plans on extending the dune protection down to the Volusia County line and up to North 19th Street in Flagler Beach. It cannot do so if property owners hold out and create “gaps” in the dunes. Those gaps all but render the dunes’ protection ineffective. “So I think it represents a potential impairment, unless we make it absolutely clear, and we would do that through the pursuit of the suit that these are not factually based, not legally based reasons to not execute an easement.”
Surles, Hadeed said, believes the county will not be able to live up to its promises–promises that the county or anyone else would not infringe the property, that dunes would not block the property’s view, that only native vegetation would be planted on the dunes, as opposed to sea grapes. Surles also believes that someone other than the county would take control of the easement sometime in the future, or that construction would be allowed on the dunes, east of A1A. That’s also not the case. “We can turn it over to others for purposes of maintenance, but all the power comes through us once a person executes that perpetual easement,” Hadeed told county commissioners Monday evening.
Surles is not demanding money. He simply does not believe that the government will uphold its obligations. “And I don’t know how much more demonstrative or fact based, or legally based I can be about the need to reject those conclusions,” Hadeed said. I had hoped that he would see that many others were signing these easements, that we’re getting very close to the project, and that there is an imminent need to have these done.” He did not see. “I believe in the end that this is going to be a person that is going to be a hold-out, that is going to take a court order to change that result.”
“I strongly recommend that you authorize me to proceed on this property,” Hadeed said. Commissioners did.
Two other property owners in the South 2700 block are in “serious” discussions with the county. There have been many discussions between county officials and Surles–not just from county government, but from other government agencies, what Hadeed described as “numerous efforts, numerous conversations, hourlong conversations,” all of which led to the conclusion that he would not budge. The county now has 98 percent of easements signed along the length of the project, but “98 percent is still an F, because we don’t get the project” permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hadeed said.
The corps allowed the county to segment out unwilling properties at the tail end of the project, in the South 2700 block, where three parcels remain unsecured. Since the block is at the very end of the project, the renourishment can conceivably begin one block up, though not having those easements in hand would hamper the extension of the project south in the future.
The dune-rebuilding project has been in the works for over 15 years. It was to have been completed by last December. The hold-outs have delayed the work. The Corps of Engineers came close to annulling the project because of the delays, but has granted extensions.