Walton home-owners turn beach-front properties into businesses

Walton County

INLET BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Frustrated Inlet Beach residents say their residential neighborhood is becoming a tourist trap.

Michael Scher, Inlet Beach Community Council board member and local resident, said this is what is happening in front of 210 Winston Lane.

“The fact is that this property here and a number of them across Walton County are private residentially-zoned properties and they’re allowing non-residential activities to happen,” Scher said. “Even if beach vending were for some reason not considered a business, the opposite of being a business doesn’t equal residential. A church, a park, an animal shelter; those things are not businesses, but they’re also not residential uses.”

While private property owners can rent beach chairs for personal use, there is confusion about whether or not renting those chairs to beachgoers for a profit violated Walton County zoning laws. 

“If it’s zoned residential then it’s zoned residential, not commercial,” said Tony Cornman, Walton County Code Enforcement director. “Again, the Land Development Code as it is now, today, it excludes beach vending as a business, so it is not considered a business in the Land Development Code.”

210 Winston Lane has previously been flagged for running vending businesses in a residentially-zoned area. 

The real estate agent responsible for that sale, Jacob Watkins, said the buyer’s generosity with his property’s use has benefited the community.

“The buyer who bought 210 Winston Lane is a very friendly buyer he is encouraging of everyone’s use of the beach,” said Jacob Watkins with Corcoran Reverie. “He allows folks to use his property, to go to the water, and to spend time on the beach which has been a benefit to the entire Inlet Beach area. So not all owners particularly have that mindset so he’s been a very fantastic client and customer.”

Watkins said that the rental activity is important for buyers in the area.

“Waterfront and Gulf Front buyers have the opportunity or the option to allow for beach chairs to be set up at their properties for themselves, their guests, their friends, or others. So, obviously private beach or beachfront is important to buyers and they pay a premium to have that specific location,” Watkins said. “I know a large player in our market is Rent Gear Here they set up chairs at that specific location as well as a number of other locations. They definitely want to be able to create ample space for everyone to be able to use the beach freely.”

According to business records, Watkins is a managing member of Rent Gear Here, with business partner and South Walton Beach Service Association chair Phillip Poundstone. Walton County partners with the South Walton Beach Service Association for its Managed Vendor Program.

Walton County’s customary use laws allow patrons to use the beach at the mean high water line. Scher said usually, the beach vendors in front of 210 Winston Lane often crowd people out.

Partnering with beach vendors can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in revenue for homeowners.

Former real estate marketer and local activist Charles Galloway said this property sets a precedent for future Gulf Front sales and how private beaches could be used. 

“Several real estate brokers are putting these deals together to sell Gulf Front property just to make a beach business, and that could have catastrophic effects,” Galloway said. “We’ve already seen the gold rush come into 30A for building houses for rental revenue. Well if all the sudden that same principle is put into private Gulf Front property, they will do the same.”

According to the sale records for 210 Winston Lane listed on the MLS, Watkins’s team acted as both the listing and buying agent. 

Scher said it has also had a direct effect on the community, which is mostly second-home-owners and renters.

“We see quite a few people who come here, who’ve vacationed here for a number of years, they are now crowded out because they get to a beach and they’re being told that they’re not allowed to sit there when in reality they have the right below the mean high water line to go wherever they want to go,” Scher said.

Cornman says that the county will be examining possible solutions for this problem at the Dec. 8 Board of County Commissioners meeting.

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