Morningside Drive dock charts new waters: Community-owned dock built on Indian River County property
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — For years, a small dock marked “private” stood unnoticed on county-owned property off Jungle Trail.
When officials discovered the Morningside Drive dock earlier this year, they wavered between tearing it down or taking it over, which would have required upgrades for handicapped accessibility and to meet county standards.
Instead, neighbors created a homeowners group and partnered with the county to maintain the dock and open it to the public.
The Morningside Drive dock saga charts new waters as a community-owned dock built on county-owned property but without prior approval. While private docks built over public waters such as the Indian River Lagoon are common in Florida, allowing a dock to remain on county-owned shoreline property is rare.
Indian River County has a handful of agreements with property owners allowing docks on county right of way, but all received the necessary permits before the dock was built.
Only Commission Chairman Bob Solari objected last week when county commissioners approved the Morningside dock contract, which requires the upgrades within six months and the association to get liability insurance.
“We shouldn’t be promoting illegal docks,” he said Thursday. Allowing after-the-fact permits could encourage others to do the same, he said.
Community Development Director Stan Boling disagrees the county agreement opens the door for more illegal docks in the future. Only developments platted in the 1960s or earlier reserved a county right of way along the shoreline, he said. Newer developments plan for lots with their own private shorelines, he said. Riverside Estates, where Morningside Drive is located, was platted in the 1950s, he said.
“(The Morningside dock) is a remnant of the past,” he said. “It is an unusual situation.”
Most docks in Florida rivers and the Indian River Lagoon are built over public submerged land, where state law regulates construction through permits and agreements with property owners, said West Palm Beach environmental attorney Andrew Baumann. Through what is known as “riparian rights,” a waterfront owner can build a private dock that trespasses over the submerged public land, but first must get approval from the owner of the public land, such as the county or state, Baumann said. State law outlines limits to how the dock can be built. For example, docks must be within 500 feet of the shore so they are not a navigational hazard, he said.
“It’s important for the waterfront-property owner to access the boat channel, but it has to balance with the public’s right to use (the water),” he said. At the same time, docks built over public land may be restricted from the general public, he said.
Counties can allow docks to be built on the public right of way.
In Indian River County, about 17 homeowners in the Country Club Pointe subdivision have agreements allowing them to build personal boat slips on county right of way property for $100 a year and $300,000 liability insurance, according to county records. The River Boat Club Property Owners Association in Sebastian is the only other association with a county agreement allowing a private multi-slip common dock facility on county right of way, according to county records. The association pays the county $100 a year for each dock slip at the facility, on 95th Street, according to the 1995 agreement.
Until 2010, county officials had a similar arrangement with the Wauregan Boat Club in Roseland, Boling said. The county abandoned its right of way on 130th Avenue, ending its agreement with Wauregan property owners.
The contract with Morningside Drive residents is a little different because the dock was built on county-owned property without any prior approval or agreement with the county. County officials offered an after-the-fact solution, saving the county from having to pay to remove the dock or upgrade it to county standards.
Solari said he was concerned about the county’s potential responsibility if terms of the agreement are unfulfilled, or if the Morningside residents disband the association. The county would have to take back the dock, he said.
“Does the county need another dock?” he asked.
Morningside Drive resident Andrew Mustapick said the homeowners plan to upgrade the dock, making it easier to access from Jungle Trail. The dock is too small for anything bigger than a canoe or paddleboard, he said. Residents use it as a swimming platform or to load coolers, he said.
The Morningside neighborhood and dock are hidden from Jungle Trail, Boling said.
“You can barely see it,” Boling said.
Morningside Drive dock: Friends of the Morningside Drive Dock Inc. agrees to maintain and upgrade the dock, buy liability insurance and open it to the public.
River Boat Club dock: River Boat Club Property Owners Association Inc. agrees to maintain multi-slip common dock on 95th Street, Sebastian. Association pays county $100 per dock slip annually and buys liability insurance.
Country Club Pointe: About 17 owners of waterfront property near Calcutta Drive in the Vero Beach Country Club Pointe subdivision each pays the county $100 annually for a private dock.
Source: Indian River County