Development company claims to own parts of Hillsboro Inlet, backyards of several nearby houses

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – A property development company claims it owns parts of the Hillsboro Inlet and the backyards of several houses nearby.

Broward County property appraiser Marty Kiar said he’s never seen anything like it and is asking a judge for clarification before any property records are changed.

Kiar claims those affected were never informed about the matter.

The address 2000 Bay Drive in Pompano Beach is just south of the Hillsboro Inlet on the Atlantic.

According to Broward’s property appraiser, if a developer gets his way, the pool area behind the house will no longer belong to the owner of the house.

“This is something that I have never seen before,” Kiar said.

The property appraiser claims part of the area the developer claims to own includes parts of the Hillsboro Inlet and parts of a Coast Guard station, as well several backyards of million-dollar homes on Bay Drive.

Kiar said this affects 16 property owners.

“And the court order tells our office to take a portion of their property -- basically their backyards. It even goes through one person’s pool -- and to take it out of their names and put it in the name of the plaintiff,” Kiar said.

The plaintiff is the owner of Hillsboro Inlet Investments.

So much of the property is within the Hillsboro Inlet, which people utilize every day for recreation purposes.

“That is the property of the people of our country,” Kiar said.

Kiar is so concerned that he’s filed a “motion of clarification” to the judge seeking guidance “due to significant legal consequences.”

Kiar said he wants to make sure the judge knows that current property owners affected were never even told about the issue.

“I can’t believe that an order came to our office that asks us to update records and change ownership,” Kiar said. “Those people who own the property were not put on notice.”

“We have sent letters to every one of the property owners that are being affected. We have reached out to the state of Florida, to the Coast Guard, to just about every single person, entity that may be affected here.”

Much of the property in question is underwater -- legally known as submerged lands.

It’s complicated, but Hillsboro Inlet Investments legally obtained ownership of the property from the sole surveying director of a dissolved realty company.

According to state records, the man listed as a manager of Hillsboro Inlet Investments is William Swaim.

“I can’t speak on the intent of the plaintiff. I have no idea why he wants to do this,” Kiar said.

The property owners who spoke to Local 10 News are lawyering up.

Ocean Ridge resident Dr. Gilbert Panzer said Swaim’s company wants him to pay $150,000 to them for the use of his dock.

Panzer has lived at his waterfront home in Palm Beach County for 38 years.

He and close to two dozen neighbors have gotten letters from an attorney representing McCormick Mile Investments, informing them that their docks and boat lifts intrude on a canal McCormick now owns.

For a non-negotiable fee of $150,000 per house, McCormick will give them access to the canal.

According to state records, Swaim is listed as a manager of McCormick Mile Investments

“He claims he owns the canal,” Panzer said. “I think it’s a scam.”

Down the street, another one of Swaim’s companies obtained a deed and ownership to parts of a lagoon -- submerged land behind the Wellington Arms condominiums.

Swaim’s company demanded the condo remove their dock over his land.

After years in court and mediation, a source says the condo will now pay Swaim and his company $150,000 for use of their dock and the waterway.

This seems to be a pattern.

Swaim’s companies obtain titles to submerged lands and then go after those who use them, including large cable companies with submerged underwater fiber optic cable systems.

South Spanish Trail LLC -- a Swaim company -- filed a $250 million lawsuit against some of the biggest companies for their use of cables on his land underwater.

Could these same demands be made to the residents on Bay Drive in Pompano Beach? Or to companies with lines buried in the Hillsboro Inlet?

If history repeats itself, we know where this may be going.

By phone, Swaim refused to answer questions.

Panzer summed it up this way.

“If he wasn’t successful to some extent, he wouldn’t continue this. So he must be successful in some cases,” Panzer said.

Residents said they are gearing up for a fight.

There is an April 14 hearing to address Kair’s concerns about the order for him to change property records.

Swaim’s attorney representing Hillsboro Inlet Investments released the following statement to Local 10 News:

“To Plaintiff’s knowledge, there are no current property owners who are adversely impacted, as is reflected on the survey exhibits which were attached to the complaint and incorporated into the final judgment. All interested parties with potential claims to the underlying lands in question were in fact identified and named in the lawsuit. This challenge here appears to be the result of title and mapping errors which seemingly have been perpetuated by BCPA’s office over the course of many decades. Notably, Plaintiff’s case relies in part upon surveying calculations which, on the very rare occasion, can result in some discrepancy when lands are involved which have not been surveyed for lengthy periods of time (as is the case here).

If there are any proven surveying discrepancies, which is not the case thus far as the BCPA has done nothing more than to rely upon its own errant, out of date title and mapping records in drawing such a conclusion, Plaintiff is certainly prepared to promptly remedy any overlapping and/or inexact surveying calls which are brought to its attention that might potentially impact the property rights of any private landowners.

Beyond that, much of BCPA’s confusion here results from its fundamental institutional misunderstanding of and failure to recognize the clear legal distinction between submerged lands and sovereign lands. Simply put, not all submerged lands are sovereign lands. As was alleged by Plaintiff in its very detailed complaint, this lawsuit was actually instigated by BCPA because BCPA had refused to title and map the properties which Plaintiff had acquired without it first obtaining a judgment quieting title to them, even though Plaintiff presented BCPA with its deed to the lands in question before initiating the lawsuit, because they are presently submerged.”


About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.