12345048894?profile=RESIZE_710xThe red outlines show the beach access and slice of roadway property that some Tropical Drive residents were able to acquire adjacent to the white-roofed Turtle Beach condo complex. SOURCE: Palm Beach County Property Appraiser

By Jane Musgrave

When Mark Feinstein opened up the Facebook page for the town of Ocean Ridge, he was stunned to find out that alongside notices of upcoming zoning meetings, blood drives and boil water orders, he had been accused of engaging in a bizarre sexual act.

Repulsed and angry, the 64-year-old lawyer, Turtle Beach condo president and father of three didn’t have to wonder about the identity of the person who used the social media forum to attack him and a former Ocean Ridge mayor.

Sean Currie, a fellow Ocean Ridge resident who has become Feinstein’s nemesis, used his own name when he posted the nasty missives and later admitted he had no regrets about making the unfounded allegations.

The social media posts are among the many strange volleys that have been fired since warfare erupted between residents of Turtle Beach and those who live on Tropical Drive, which runs along the southernmost border of the yellow 26-unit oceanfront condominium a half-mile south of Woolbright Road.

Lawsuits have been filed, an arrest has been made, ethnic slurs have been hurled and political fortunes have been changed. 

“The whole thing is hilarious,” said Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Steve Coz. But, he added, it is also unfortunate.

Ocean Ridge, he said, is a “very friendly, neighborly town.” Since the battle began, it has become less so. People have chosen sides, with Coz’s and voters’ sentiments leaning against Turtle Beach.

Like disputes that have erupted in Palm Beach and dozens of oceanfront communities in Florida and elsewhere, the fight between Turtle Beach and Tropical Drive residents began over sand.

The first salvo came in late 2021 when the condo association posted signs, warning visitors that its beach was private. “No Trespassing Please,” the signs said.

But, while the message on the signs might have been polite, the reaction to them was fierce.

Currie responded by ripping down one of the signs, leading to his arrest on a charge of criminal mischief.

12345047659?profile=RESIZE_710xTurtle Beach puts out trash on property the Tropical Drive group bought. Staff photo

Real estate maneuver
The case was dropped when he agreed to reimburse the association $300 for the sign. But by then, he, his mother and six other Tropical Drive residents came up with another way to fight back.

They formed Sunrise Beach LLC and plunked down $40,000 to buy a ribbon of land on Tropical Drive and another strip along Turtle Beach’s oceanfront property. As the owners of the two parcels that are each valued at $988 for tax purposes, the corporation sued Turtle Beach, demanding that the condo association get off its land.

In the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, the residents claim that the condo illegally uses their property twice a week when Turtle Beach residents line up their garbage bins for pickup. More egregious, they said, are the driveway, gate and electronic keypad Turtle Beach installed on the land in 2020 so condo residents can get in and out of the complex. 

“Turtle Beach continues to trespass by placing their refuse and debris on the property, as well as unlawfully constructing an unpermitted access keypad, and destroying a sodded area,” attorney Robert Hartsell wrote on behalf of Tropical Drive residents.

Traffic tie-ups on the narrow street are routine, according to Currie’s father, Christopher. In court papers, he said, he has “to deal repeatedly on a serial basis with people obstructing my street and my parking area because they are trying to deliver stuff across a locked gate.”

The residents are asking a judge to order Turtle Beach to remove all of the structures and to stop using the land for garbage pickup. They are also seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Turtle Beach responded to the suit by asking the judge to declare that the association is the rightful owner of the property. Long before the existing gate was installed, the association used the land and maintained it for more than 20 years, said attorney Spencer Sax, who represents Turtle Beach.

The condo has what is essentially squatter’s rights. While the legal term is adverse possession, Florida law allows people to claim ownership of land they have used for seven consecutive years.

Tropical Drive residents and the former owners of the property had to be aware of Turtle Beach’s use of the land yet did nothing to stop it, Sax said. “The association’s use, possession and maintenance of the … property has been actual, open, visible, exclusive, notorious, continuous and hostile to Sunrise and to the world at large for well more than seven years,” he said.

If the judge doesn’t want to give Turtle Beach the land, he should at least give it an easement, allowing the condo association to continue to use it, Sax said. He is also suing the Tropical Drive residents individually and asking that they be forced to pay damages for interfering with the condominium’s property rights.

Libel lawsuit heats up
While that legal battle continues to rage, another one is also playing out.

Feinstein in April sued Currie for libel, claiming the Tropical Drive resident had posted “despicable and disgusting comments” about him on Facebook.

While the real estate lawsuit makes no mention of the dispute over the beach, in the defamation suit Feinstein says retribution drove Currie to publicly — and falsely — accuse him of engaging in a “heinous, despicable” sexual act.

“Currie has an ax to grind with Feinstein ever since his lawful arrest for trespassing and stealing signs which are the property of the Turtle Beach of Ocean Ridge Condominium Association,” attorney Matthew Haynes, who represents Feinstein, said in court papers.

During a deposition, the 36-year-old Currie admitted authoring the Facebook posts but he described his motives differently.

“I made the Facebook posts in hopes that somebody might read it and notice that this is a massive farce and that they would encourage him to stop polluting the beach and harassing his neighbors,” Currie said, according to a transcript. 

He repeatedly said he had no evidence to back up his claims against Feinstein. “Correct, no factual evidence based on sexual activities,” Currie said, occasionally laughing at Feinstein’s lawyer’s questions.

Currie also admitted that he regularly hurled an antisemitic slur at Feinstein. “Multiple times,” Currie said when asked how often he insulted Feinstein by using the denigrating epithet, sometimes punctuating it with an obscenity. He insisted his description was justified.

“Because he is a horrible person and he’s Jewish, so, therefore, it’s an apt derogatory slur,” he said. “I wouldn’t call him the slur for an Italian or a Black person, because he’s not Italian or Black.”

While court records show Currie has offered to settle the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount, Feinstein is adamant that the case will go to trial. And the stakes for Currie could be high. Feinstein on Dec. 22 filed a motion, asking a judge to let him seek an unspecified amount in punitive damages. Claiming “there is a reasonable basis that [Currie] acted with gross negligence or engaged in intentional misconduct,” Feinstein argues that simple damages aren’t enough. Currie should be punished. Punitive damages famously can reach into the millions.

“I’m not litigious,” Feinstein said. “I don’t want his money. The whole idea is to let him know his actions have consequences.”

Since he became condo president in 2021, Feinstein said his quiet life has become chaotic. Angry Tropical Drive residents blame him alone for the signs. 

“Mark Feinstein didn’t put the signs on the beach,” he said. “It was a board decision.”

A decisive election issue
Feinstein isn’t the only one who has incurred the wrath of Tropical Drive residents and their supporters. In his Facebook posts, Currie also blamed then Mayor Susan Hurlburt, who lives in Turtle Beach, for “being allowed to pollute our beautiful ocean with hazardous refuse.”

Hurlburt’s role in the placement of the signs became a campaign issue. One of Hurlburt’s opponents, Carolyn Cassidy, blasted Hurlburt for misusing her elected position by pushing forward her neighbors’ and her own personal agenda.

“I don’t think it’s right that the same person who initiated the signs on the beach and sought the permitting for it is presiding over the meeting when these signs were discussed,’’

Cassidy said at a forum shortly before the March election.

While Hurlburt didn’t address Cassidy’s remarks then, she repeatedly said she kept her public and private lives separate.

“I absolutely avoid all involvement in my official capacity with the town that may give even the perception of wandering into self-interest,” she told The Coastal Star in the run-up to the election.

Ultimately, however, in a three-way race, Hurlburt lost the seat she had held since 2019. Cassidy captured twice as many votes as Hurlburt.

Once she was sworn in, Cassidy and other town commissioners, including Coz, pushed to enact a law that limits where signs can go on the beach. The rules, adopted in September, require signs to be situated at the dune toe line at least 200 feet away from any other signs, face east-west, and be no bigger than 18-by-18-inches.

Turtle Beach, which initially installed four signs, has largely complied with the measures, Feinstein said. It removed all but two of the beach signs although a disagreement remains over whether warnings can be placed on both sides of the placards. A code enforcement magistrate hearing is set for Jan. 9.

Feinstein insisted it was never the association’s intent to keep people from accessing the beach or strolling along it. The condo board recognizes that the public owns the land seaward of the mean high tide line and people are free to walk on the wet sand in front of Turtle Beach.

Condo residents, however, were tired of drunken revelers, who were obnoxious, played loud music and prevented homeowners from enjoying the stretch of beach that they paid for in higher home prices and taxes. The signs were designed to stop people from setting up beach chairs and blankets by directing them to a nearby public beach.

Until the uproar, the signs were working, he said.

Precedent for beach access
Tropical Drive residents have a different view.

Gabriele Currie, who is president of the Sunrise Beach LLC and Sean’s mother, called the issue “an emotional one.” She declined further comment because of the ongoing lawsuit.

Instead, she cited a letter the group’s attorney wrote. In it, Hartsell insisted that those who claim private ownership of a beach are on shaky legal ground.

“The general public may continue to use the dry sand area for their usual recreational activities, not because the public has any interest in the land itself, but because of a right gained through custom to use this particular area of the beach as they have without dispute and interruption for many years,” Hartsell wrote, quoting a Florida Supreme Court decision from 1974. 

Beyond legal concerns, he said allowing private landowners to restrict access to the beach is simply wrong.

“This gradual exclusivity of the beaches is shocking to the [consciences] of those who purchased their life’s dream home, living near the ocean and enjoying all of its benefits only to have that dream shattered by no trespassing signs and threats of prosecution,” Hartsell wrote.

For his part, Coz blamed Turtle Beach for igniting an unnecessary and divisive dispute. Cassidy’s overwhelming election showed town residents don’t support what he considers the condo’s beach land grab.

He acknowledged that Sean Currie’s behavior wasn’t acceptable. “He went too far,” Coz said. “But he was fed up. It gets very emotional when you tell people they can’t use the beach.”

He said he hopes that a resolution can be reached.

“It’s so unfortunate — the whole thing,” he said. “I don’t understand why Turtle Beach doesn’t shake hands with Tropical Drive and Tropical Drive would do the same.”

Feinstein said he attempted to talk to a member of the Tropical Drive corporation without success. “It’s hard to reach out to somebody when they won’t talk,” he said.

Now, the issue will be decided in court. “They fired the first shot and we had to react,” Feinstein said.

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