Real Estate Agent with Bill Cherry, Realtor 0124242

A good portion of Galveston Island has a seawall that somewhat protects its south side from the  anger of the Gulf of Mexico. The first part of that seawall was completed about 1902 after the city had been inundated by the now-famous hurricane of 1900 and the rising waters that it brought.

However, there are several miles of the island where there is nothing but occasional sand dunes between dry land and the gulf, and when storms come and the gulf rises most or all of that land is flooded.

But if that isn't bad enough, storms as well as the natural action of the gulf cause natural erosion of those beaches.

And then there is the other quirk.  Texas has always claimed that those beaches belong to the public.  Access cannot be restricted.  The beaches can't be subdivided and bought.

Through some cockamamie laws, however, for the past 50 years or so, the property just to the north of the public beach has been developed as residential lots.  There are multi-millions of dollars worth of homes that have been built there.  In fact, many of those homes are on the tax rolls for appraised values exceeding a million bucks.

People who built their homes close to the natural easement did so knowing that as the beach eroded, there could come a time when their homes would be sitting in the public right-of-way. 

Meanwhile, the State of Texas and the city and county of Galveston spent millions upon millions over the years, pumping sand to rebuild the beaches where erosion had invaded them.

In fact, sometimes the city used public money to buy from the owners, houses that had ended up in the public right away.  That, too, amounted to millions of dollars being used to pay back homeowners for the loss of their property, a loss that even a first grader could have anticipated would be inevitable at some point.

Recently, a property owner who owned several of those beachfront homes, claimed that since the public's beach was now sitting under her house and on her platted lots, she could fence the land off, creating her own private beach.

The Texas General Land Office disagreed.  She filed suit, and now after being heard by the Texas Supreme Court, the court has sided with the plaintiff.

According to the Galveston County Daily News, "Texas Supreme Court (has) sent (its) opinion to a federal court in which it held that some West End property owners have rights superseding the Texas Open Beaches Act because the state did not revoke titles to that land when it joined the union in 1846."

So the silliness of letting people build where the public beaches would eventually move, is now biting the public in the back.  At what point will there no longer be public beaches on that part of Galveston Island where there is no seawall?  It could easily be soon.



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Comments (25)

Michael Setunsky
Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

Bill, this is an interesting situation. Looks like the lawmakers will have more decisions o make in the future.

Nov 29, 2010 01:18 AM
Jason Channell
Diadem Property Inspections - Serving Southeast Michigan - Troy, MI
The House Sleuth

Interesting history. It looks like a little foresight could have prevented this entire mess.

Nov 29, 2010 01:19 AM
James McGary
Agents Set Free, Inc - Irvine, CA

This is one of the evidences of how local government much like the federal government is broken

Nov 29, 2010 01:31 AM
Greg Nino
RE/MAX Compass - Houston, TX
Houston, Texas

My family grew up on the island and I've sold several homes there. I can tell you first hand that anyone that builds or buys on the beach is fully aware of the dangers of owning land that may or may not be yours someday. The beaches should have no restriction whatsoever. And where did you find a picture of such a modern  looking home in Galveston??? :-)

Nov 29, 2010 02:56 AM
Scott Petersen
Client First, Realtors - Canton, MI - Canton, MI

It may take just one good hurricane to reclaim the beach.

Nov 29, 2010 03:06 AM
Lisa Smith
Century 21 Exclamation Realty - Bentonville, AR

I love the beach but I also realize that WHEN I do finally get to live there I am going to be the guest.  :)  Nature has a funny way ..... so does the government!

Nov 29, 2010 04:10 AM
Jason Burkholder
Weichert, Realtors - Welcome Home - Lancaster, PA
Associate Broker, Realtor, e-Pro, CMS

Huh, I never thought of it like that.  its a shame to lose natural resources like that

Nov 29, 2010 04:59 AM
Bill Cherry, Realtor - Dallas, TX
Broker & Wealth Coach

Ron, ironically its how Texas became a state and joined the union that stands in the way of it being able to constitutionally claim its shorelines are "rolling."  That was the point the Texas Supreme Court used to find those automatic state acquisitions illegal.

The woman who acquired the beach houses that are at the bases of the suit doesn't live in any of them.  She lives in California and apparently acquired the three properties after Ike caused the "public" beach to encroach on her property.

One wonders what her motivation was.


Nov 29, 2010 05:01 AM
MeLisa Minter, Realtor
Minter Real Estate Services - Taylor Lake Village, TX
Bay Area Houston Real Estate Agent

Bill, great information.  I knew that once hurricane Ike was done, there would be situations such as this.  I don't understand why agents, won't stress this natural fact to their buyers, but they probably do and the buyes just won't listen.

I can only imagine the time and effort a home owner will go through in order to protect, what is not rightfully theirs.

Nov 29, 2010 05:29 AM
Chris Alston
Chris Alston (Keller Williams Realty, Silicon Valley, California) - Campbell, CA
Silicon Valley, California
What an interesting story! Galviston ohhhh galviston... (Love that song)
Nov 29, 2010 06:02 AM
Bill Cherry, Realtor - Dallas, TX
Broker & Wealth Coach

Chris -

If you (or anyone else) will send me your email address to cherrysells@aol.com I'll send you a little known and very interesting newspaper column I wrote some year back about why Glen Campbell decided to record that song.


Nov 29, 2010 06:29 AM
Gary Woltal
Keller Williams Realty - Flower Mound, TX
Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth

Bill, with erosion it is just crazy sometimes to define what is public and what is private cause it keeps changing if you build too close to the water's edge.

Nov 29, 2010 08:11 AM
Michelle Molinari
FEATURE THIS... Real Estate Staging & Interior Decor - Lafayette, LA
Feature This Real, Estate Staging & Curb Appeal Concepts

I own property in Crystal Beach, just a hop, skip and a jump from Galveston.

The beaches there are considered state highways, and yet over the years several folks have tried to claim the waterfront as their own because they have beachfront property. It's hilarious.

There you are, driving along the waterline like everyone else , like you have done for YEARS, looking for a place to cop a squat and drink your beer, and all of a sudden there is some temporary fence built by some goofball from a beach house to the waterline.

Silly yankees.

We just drive over them (the fences, not the yankees).


Nov 29, 2010 08:24 AM
Joshua Harley
Fathom Realty - Plano, TX
CEO, Tech Geek, Innovator, Disruptor, US Marine

I think the woman who acquired the properties knew exactly what she was doing... It is an interesting development for us in Texas.  I would hate to see us follow in the footsteps of California!

Nov 29, 2010 08:40 AM
Kim Dean
www.GoSimplyTexas.com - McKinney, TX
Simply Texas Real Estate - Broker/Owner

As someone who is very interested in *someday* selling beach property down South, I realize that I have a LOT to learn before I do so. This article is very interesting...keep 'em coming! My family has enjoyed vacationing in Galvesston and Crystal Beach over the years and since I was a kid.

Nov 29, 2010 08:41 AM
Bill Cherry, Realtor - Dallas, TX
Broker & Wealth Coach

Joshua, you hit the nail on the head.  In fact, she's got some California legal advocate organization representing her, I suppose for free or next to free, although I understand she's an attorney as well.

Kim, there's a lor of money made ever year brokering Galveston vacation homes.  I'll bet you'll do well.

Nov 29, 2010 09:46 AM
Amy Law
Alliance Properties - Crosby, TX

As a Seabrook girl, I follow the plight of Galveston real estate pretty closely. The real problem in this story: 1. The stupid judge. Let's get rid of that guy. 2. That the insurance companies that allow this mess to continue to begin with.

I have been had and lost beach front property in Galveston in my life. Everyone knows that it is a temporary summer love affair that will eventuallly get washed away. But there comes a time...when we must be logical in any love affair and declair, this is doomed, and we must split. In this case, it is the love of building on the beach...(sob, sob, sniffle, sniffle...) But still. Let's wise up and give up the ghost of building along west beach, (among others).

Nov 29, 2010 10:06 AM
Faye Y. Taylor
StepStone Realty, LLC - Floresville, TX
Homes for Sale Floresville, La Vernia &San Antonio

What do we say?   Texas Supreme Court has no common sense.   Who elected these dudes?   I have always considered Texas to be a pretty common sense type of state but it looks like we have been invaded.  

What do you think the lady was thinking when she bought the places?  John Stossell tells a story about buying an ocean front home and having it destroyed by a hurricane.  He got government money to rebuild and then guess what?  Along comes another hurricane & guess what?  He got government money to rebuild again.  His Dad said "Are you stupid?  Building in that location to begin with?  Give it up."  

Nov 29, 2010 11:03 AM
Fred Griffin Florida Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

We have some property owners in Florida trying to "Fence off the Beach".

Examples include Siesta Key (Sarasota), Palm Beach, and Coconut Grove (Miami).

Recently a group of Homeowners near Fort Walton Beach hired Rent-a-Cops to run people off of "their" beach. One of the Security Guards grabbed a person by the arm, and was subsequently charged with aggravated assault.

Florida's long standing Beach Rights and Riparian Rights have prevailed... so far.

Nov 29, 2010 05:01 PM
Vicki Baggs
Vista Real Estate Bayou Vista - Hitchcock, TX
Galveston County Waterfront

This was quite shocking when we heard the "news" about the court's decision.  If you're interested in more info, read the minority judges' finding which takes a completely different stance.  A stance, I might add, that has been customary on Texas beaches for years.  The owner of the property purchased 3 investment properties in 2005.  It was actually Rita that started the lawsuit, not Ike.  So now after going through another hurricane, since the original question, I understand there is actually water (Gulf of Mexico) lapping under the home.  So it really doesn't matter what the court decides, Mother Nature will take it back....pretty much a mute point for this homeowner.  But the future implications of this interpretation are massive, and all negative. 


Dec 06, 2010 01:40 AM