Tropical Drive resident Taylor Nixon was among those who spoke to the Town Commission against the placement of No Trespassing signs on the beach by the Turtle Beach condos. They said the signs make it appear as if the entire beach is closed to public access. Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Joe Capozzi
Town commissioners, responding to complaints about blight and intimidation, will consider a new ordinance regulating the placement of “No Trespassing” and “Private Beach” signs on the beach in Ocean Ridge.
The decision to consider the sign rules emerged from a broader, ongoing dispute over public access rights on the town’s beachfront — for years a controversial topic in Ocean Ridge and many other coastal communities across Florida.
The Ocean Ridge debate has gotten particularly nasty over the past several months, pitting neighbors against neighbors, with accusations flying like blasts of sand.
Caught in the middle is Mayor Susan Hurlburt, who lives in Turtle Beach of Ocean Ridge, a 26-unit condominium community on the battle’s front line — a roughly 300-foot stretch of beach between Tropical and Hersey drives.
Hurlburt is seeking another three-year term as commissioner on March 14, and the dispute has become cannon fodder for her political opponents, including two commissioners who have endorsed a challenger and who support public access rights directly east of Turtle Beach.
One of the Turtle Beach "Private Beach" signs.
Police Chief Richard Jones identified 141 signs on or near the beach, on roads and crossovers. Of those, perhaps 90 or so signs are on the beach, which is where commissioners are focusing their possible regulatory measures.
While a sign-placement law may not answer the broader question over public beach access in Ocean Ridge, commissioners hope new rules might help extinguish the lingering tensions that boiled over Feb. 6 when more than 100 angry residents packed Town Hall.
“It has gone too far with this hostility,’’ said Lacey Siegel, a Tropical Drive resident who said she considers the beach “sacred land” where she meditates, practices yoga and sunbathes. “The signs are breaking us apart.’’
Turtle Beach says Siegel and others are trespassing because the beach is the condo’s private property through deeded beachfront access rights. The condo says it erected “No Trespassing” signs to discourage unruly beachgoers who have littered, played loud music and even left underwear on the signs overnight as acts of defiance.
Those claims are disputed by residents living just north and south of Turtle Beach who have circulated a “Stop Sign Pollution” petition urging commissioners to ban signs below the dune/vegetation line.
They say the signs are purposely placed in a manner that misrepresents public access rights and are part of a campaign to intimidate anyone who doesn’t live at the condo.
“The sole purpose of those signs is ‘we are going to intimidate you rubes out there into not using your beach,’’’ said Christopher Currie, who has led the fight on behalf of Tropical Drive residents.
Siegel was one of three women who complained to the commission about harassment from condo residents aiming cameras at beachgoers.
“I have felt violated,’’ said Taylor Nixon of Tropical Drive. “I have been out there in my bathing suit relaxing, reading my book and I have been getting videotaped by some of the neighbors probably to use as evidence of being in their property. That is very stressful and a little aggressive.’’
To bolster their concerns, residents point out that “Keepoffmybeach” is the name of a Wi-Fi network — presumably belonging to a Turtle Beach resident — that is visible on a smartphone near the condo.
Mark Feinstein, president of the Turtle Beach of Ocean Ridge Condominium Association, disputed the comments by Tropical Drive residents as “misinformation” by “a very vocal minority” of residents. He criticized the Town Commission for “giving them a soap box” and an “air of credibility” by even considering a sign ordinance.
“It’s all a ruse,’’ he said. “What they are attempting to do is make all private beach public beach.’’
The signs, approved by the town, “are necessary because of the transients who would be steered to our beach by the Tropical gang,’’ he said.
Elliot Zank, who lives on Old Ocean Boulevard just south of Turtle Beach, said he often sees ride-hail drivers dropping off beachgoers at the end of Tropical Drive, even though a sign posted at that spot on Old Ocean Boulevard prohibits drop-offs.
“The signs are necessary … to prevent a major influx of nonresidents from crowding the beach,’’ said Zank, one of several speakers who agreed with Feinstein but were still outnumbered Feb. 6 by people against the signs.
“Removing the signs would violate owners’ First Amendment rights,’’ he said.
County complained before
Residents living near Turtle Beach aren’t the only ones who have complained to the town about signs on the beach in Ocean Ridge.
In February 2022, a Palm Beach County government supervisor complained to then-Town Manager Tracey Stevens in a letter about town “signs indicating limits to public accessibility” north and south of Boynton Beach Oceanfront Park.
The signs “may incur significant financial liability for the town by restricting public access to publicly funded beach areas with active easement agreements in place. The signs should be removed immediately to prevent any further public perception that access is limited within the project area,’’ Andy Studt, a program supervisor for the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management, said in the letter.
The signs referenced in the letter, which was included in the backup material to the commission’s Feb. 6 meeting, were installed in 2019 at the unanimous direction of the Town Commission to replace previously posted signs that had been damaged or removed. The signs near Oceanfront Park are no longer on the beach, although a town sign at the south end of Ocean Ridge near Briny Breezes still stands.
The ERM complaint was not discussed Feb. 6. Although there are dozens of “No Trespassing” signs at crossovers along Old Ocean Boulevard, it’s the signs on the beach that a majority of commissioners are targeting for rules on where they can be placed or whether they should all be removed.
“I believe in personal property rights and I also believe in the rights of the public,’’ said Commissioner Geoff Pugh, who said there are probably at least 40 signs that “need to be removed posthaste. It’s blight.’’
Pugh said he has no problem with beach signs against the dunes west of the wet and dry sand.
“My problem,’’ he said, “is once you get past vegetation line and you see a sign and have to walk around it, that’s when it becomes, why are we splitting the community up?’’
Pugh said, “We should create an ordinance for those signs and get them removed because the beach is for all of us.’’
Hurlburt, the mayor who lives in Turtle Beach, has tried to stay out of the public fight, restricting her comments on the topic at commission meetings.
Hurlburt and Commissioner Martin Wiescholek are running for reelection March 14, with Carolyn Cassidy the challenger. The top two vote-getters win three-year terms.
But on Feb. 6, Hurlburt took offense when Commissioner Steve Coz said that the offending signs were posted in the wet sand. Hurlburt said the signs are farther west, 10 feet from the dune in dry sand.
Coz, a political opponent of Hurlburt who has endorsed Cassidy, blamed Turtle Beach for creating the discord by posting signs in a manner that misleads members of the public into thinking they can’t walk north or south along any part of the beach east of the condo.
“To have one community cause this horrible rift in the haves and have-nots, among neighbors, among Ocean Ridge residents, it’s just sad,’’ said Coz, who at one point was interrupted by Feinstein shouting at him.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and to think one community can do this to this town really upsets me and makes me angry,’’ Coz said.
Wiescholek said he’s glad the town is finally taking a look at regulating beach signs.
“We had this on our agenda two years ago but we didn’t take action, unfortunately,” he said. Town Attorney Christy Goddeau said she would study case law and present the commission with options for regulating signs. But she warned against an outright ban of signs, which she said would violate First Amendment rights. No date has been set for further commission discussion.
Pugh, noting how residents have complained about the signs at commission meetings since at least November, said it was long past time for the town to be proactive.
“I’m not going to sit here and not do something because the town might get sued,’’ he said. “Let’s create an ordinance and let’s see what happens down the road."