Waterfront access crisis growing

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Florida legislators plan to reintroduce the Working Waterfront Protection Act this year

Florida legislators plan to reintroduce the Working Waterfront Protection Act this year

The carnage on Florida’s waterfront from four hurricanes highlighted concern about saving the state’s boatyards and marinas from conversion to more profitable uses like condominiums.

As hard-pressed waterfront owners consider whether to rebuild, they may decide to cash in their chips and sell their property for a handsome profit, says John Sprague, whose Everglades Adventure Marina on Lake Okeechobee was destroyed in Hurricane Jeanne. Sprague plans to rebuild. Others may not. Waterfront values — and property taxes — are soaring, and marinas just aren’t that profitable.

Without some financial incentive to stay in the marine business, “The majority of marinas [in southeast Florida] will be converted to private use in 10 years — I believe,” Sprague said at an Oct. 19 Marine Summit in Fort Lauderdale. The sixth of its kind hosted by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, this one was billed as the first regional summit dealing with waterfront issues across southeast Florida.

A Working Waterfront Protection Act was drafted with the intention of studying the loss of working waterfront in Florida, determining the cost of building more boat ramps and government-owned marinas and mooring fields, and recommending incentives for preserving boatyards and marinas. The proposal died in the legislature in 2004 for lack of time, but its authors plan to re-introduce it this spring.

The evidence that high-rises and condominiums are edging out marinas and boatyards in the nation’s second-largest boating state (by numbers of boats registered) is compelling. In Broward County, five marinas and boatyards have been converted to other uses or are about to be. Three have been replaced by high-rises, a fourth probably will be displaced by port facilities, a fifth is being converted to condominium slips. These “condo” slips will be sold instead of rented for a cool $80,000 to $100,000 apiece and will be available only to owners of condo units on the uplands. In Dade County, Thunderboat Row — the North Miami boatbuilding district made internationally famous by Don Aronow, Cigarette, Magnum and other go-fast builders — has been re-zoned for high-rises, and the builders are moving inland. In the Florida Keys, developers have bought Robbie’s Marina, the Keys’ largest, and Oceanside Marina at Stock Island. A third marina is for sale.

Local industry associations are pressing government for protection for working waterfront and incentives to maintain it as is. On Nov. 2, Palm Beach county residents approved a $50 million bond issue to buy waterfront land for public marinas and boat ramps and to buy development rights of marinas and boatyards so their owners don’t sell them for a big profit to condominium developers.

Miami has developed a master plan for the Miami River that seeks to preserve boatyards, marinas and shipping facilities along the river, while encouraging development of high-rises, restaurants, shops and a riverwalk. Dade County also is about to adopt a Biscayne Bay Access Plan that envisions buying more waterfront for boat ramps. Monroe County is about to hire a consultant to catalog losses of working waterfront in the Florida Keys and recommend measures to preserve it. “We’re losing marinas and our fishing industry to developers,” said Richard Jones, a Monroe County marine resources planner. The Marine Industries Association of South Florida is working on a master plan for long-term marine industry growth in Broward County.

MIASF executive director Frank Herhold said Broward goals include keeping marinas and boatyards in marine use; developing a working waterfront preservation program; pursuing public-private partnerships to develop marinas; using more county-owned land for boat ramps and marinas; and getting more drystack storage on line.

Sprague said Florida needs more moorings statewide with waterfront dockage becoming increasingly scarce. More boat ramps also are critical. He says Palm Beach county has 600 trailer parking spaces at boat ramps for 26,000 trailerable boats in the county. “If you want to go out on a weekend, you better be at the ramp real early,” he said. Sprague said if something isn’t done to preserve marinas, boatyards and boat ramps, the time will come when only those who can afford to own a waterfront home or condominium will have access to the water.

“If you’re John Q working public, what right do you have to water access?” he asks. As public waterfront is whittled away, the right is whittled away, too.