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The legal realities of obtaining, and taking, beach property

For years wealthy Walton County beach property owners have found ways to build big homes or sprawling condominiums on sand-covered lots that gave them an unimpeded view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Some, like massive Sandestin, obtained what is known as Development of Regional Impact status, with permitting that included ownership of all the beach behind its entire complex.

Others, including former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, would follow up on their home purchase by hiring an attorney to obtain “quiet title,” a court judgment extending their property lines from the toe of the dune where their house had been built to the mean high water line — effectively the Gulf itself.

Today, 64 percent, or 16.4 miles of Walton County’s nearly 26 miles of coastline is considered private property. That compares to about 5.4 percent, or 1.38 miles of county-owned beach.

These figures haven’t fluctuated much in several years, but the mood of the county and its residents has, particularly following last year’s passage of controversial House Bill 631, which made coastal property rights a priority for homeowners and beachgoers alike, and resulted in a long hot summer of squabbling about them.

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