An Easement With Benefits

You have visitors from outside the area who have never been to this part of Florida. These people are important to you—your grandchildren, or your new in-laws whom you’ve never met, or old friends new to the area. You want to show them something they will remember, something unique about the place you live that they will not be likely to find where they came from, wherever that is. Where do you go? What is there to see, or experience, that they can’t see almost anywhere else in America? The mall? The Convention Center? A golf course? You could take them to the flight line at Eglin, and that would be different from other flight lines, but only if you could show the test and development facilities that really make Eglin special. But mostly that isn’t on public display, and none of us would really want it to be. So what do we show off that they can’t find in New York, or Tampa, or most anywhere else?

I have a couple of candidates. The most obvious is the beaches of Destin and South Walton. I haven’t been to New Zealand or Australia, but mostly elsewhere, and I haven’t found anything close. My next candidate is the Destin Harbor. Most people don’t know that 20 years ago the fishermen in Destin got together to buy the last large piece of land on the harbor to build what is now the home port of the Destin Fleet. The owners are anyone who would help the fleet, but mostly fishermen. Today the property remains under the ownership of many of those fishermen, and they have taken steps to assure that the future owners are also dedicated to the commercial fishing industry. Their property is the center of the Destin Harbor.

The City is now completing its long-range plan by drafting and presenting a pedestrian easement to run from the Destin Bridge, east along the harbor as far as the owners will come together for that purpose. The City has paid to plan the boardwalk, and they will ask each owner to allow their harbor front property to be incorporated into the project. The effort is to construct the boardwalk wider than it is now, and for the City to provide parking with access for families to use the boardwalk and its businesses.

Real estate professionals need to keep in mind exactly what an easement is, and what it does. The easement document must be the first reference to answer those questions, but generally an easement describes by direction and distance its exact boundaries, in some cases including height. Unless the right is given to relocate an easement, its location is fixed, either perpetually, or for a limited time as described in the document creating the easement. The purposes for which the easement may be used, the consideration, and who may use it may also be important. Whether the easement may be extinguished by sale of any parcel is also critical.

The legal document I have seen accommodates the boardwalk and its adjacent owners well. The document was prepared by a professional land planning team and by a careful and experienced lawyer. The City’s end of the deal, if I understand correctly, is to provide parking on Highway 98 to compliment the walkway and to build, landscape, and maintain the boardwalk. That parking is essential to the project, and if it can be provided, the Destin Harbor Boardwalk will be an important piece of this unique property. The benefit is not just to Destin or these adjacent owners. The south end of Okaloosa and Walton Counties will be a little prouder with one more place different from the rest of the world.

Incidentally, anyone who wants to see a similar effect should Google the “New York City Highline.” That project will prove for generations of visitors that today’s property owners can work together to provide an undeniable community asset for the future.