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Developers buying up boatyards statewide to build luxury waterfront condos


By Laurin Sellers & Jeff Libby
Sun-Sentinel
Posted November 30 2004, 9:50 AM EST



TITUSVILLE -- With the Gulf of Mexico on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other and hundreds of lakes and rivers in between, Florida should be a boater's paradise.

But thousands of boaters find themselves searching for slips, lining up at ramps before dawn and wondering whether the day will come when they can't get to the water at all.

Driven by strict environmental regulations that make it nearly impossible to build new marine facilities along Florida's waterways, developers are buying up marinas and boatyards across the state and transforming them into luxury waterfront condominiums where the slips alone have six-figure price tags.

"The public is slowly being shut out of public waters," said John Sprague, chairman of legislative and government affairs for the Marine Industries Association of Florida. According to the group, the boating industry generates $14.1 billion annually in the state, more than double the citrus industry.

There are no statistics available on the extent of the problem. However, state officials are so concerned about the loss of public access to the state's waterways that they recently launched an unprecedented three-year study to identify and map every marina, boat slip, dock and boat ramp in Florida.

"This has never been done in the United States," said Maj. Jim Brown, chief of the boating and waterway section of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The study, paid for by a $1.2 million federal grant, will help officials decide where to sink state money to build new public-access points, Brown said.

"The boating industry is extremely critical to the health of the state of Florida," Brown said. "So it's extremely important that people have a healthy boating experience when they go out."


More boats, fewer slips

In the past three years, seven commercial marinas -- with more than 500 slips -- have been sold to private developers in Brevard County, said Steven Webster, vice president of Citizen's for Florida's Waterways.

Those lost slips have come at the same time Brevard residents registered an additional 953 pleasure boats with the state. The nearly 12 percent increase in boat registrations since 2001 slightly outpaces Central Florida as a whole, which has added 15,669 recreational boats in the past four years, bringing the total to 175,660 boats.

After operating in Titusville for 40 years, the owners of Nelson's Harbor are among those calling it quits.

"We're faced with too many codes and regulations," Flo Nelson said.

Few, including a county official, would fault them for selling out to a developer.

"It's the best way for marina owners to get the most bang for their buck," said county Commissioner Ron Pritchard, a boat enthusiast.

In neighboring Volusia County, officials are stalled over three separate proposals that could eliminate or limit the availability of more than 100 commercial-marina slips along the St. Johns River if developers are allowed to pair the slips with condos and luxury homes.

In Seminole County, Sanford officials are tying hopes to redevelop their downtown to twin six-story condominiums being built overlooking Lake Monroe that could offer as many as 50 new boat slips. Half of the slips would be available to the public.
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