NAVARRE BEACH — Leaseholders on Navarre Beach are one step closer to fee simple titles after the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2370 by a voice vote last week.

The bill, written by Congressman Matt Gaetz, gives leaseholders on Santa Rosa Island the option to acquire fee simple titles to their property, according to a press release from Gaetz.

Navarre Beach is leased to Santa Rosa County from Escambia County. In 1947, then-Congressman Bob Sikes worked to have a large portion of Santa Rosa Island National Monument, including what is today Navarre Beach, deeded to Escambia County. In 1956, Escambia County began subleasing part of the island to Santa Rosa County for $100 annually.

Residents of Santa Rosa Island have been ineligible to own their land. They can only lease it.

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According to the press release, residents were only required to pay lease fees and not property taxes. But times changed and residents are now required to pay both lease fees and property taxes. Leaseholders sued and the case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, which in 2014 ruled that residents must pay property taxes.

"For too long, residents of Santa Rosa Island have suffered unfair double taxation and have been denied the ability to own their own land," Gaetz said in the release. "My bill lifts the burden of double taxation and restores the American Dream of property ownership."

Larry Sims has been a leaseholder on Navarre Beach for 14 years. The area's selling point was that there were no taxes, he said.

"I'm all for the bill," he said. "Hopefully it will pass in the Senate. Some of the lease fees have been up to $8,000. It feels like our representatives in Tallahassee care about us. They want to do the right thing."

H.R. 2370 would require Escambia County to turn over land owned by Santa Rosa County. The bill also stipulates that the non-federal areas of Santa Rosa Island — which is the Gulf Islands National Seashore — will continue to be preserved.

This isn't the first time a fee simple bill has been presented. But in the past, it has never been successful due to the Navarre Pass issue. In April, Gaetz met with local leaders and Navarre Beach residents to say that he felt the fee simple issue and the re-opening of the Navarre Pass should be addressed separately.

"Originally, I addressed the issues together,” he said at the time. “But after meeting with the military, I see we’re on different timetables. We may have a little more work to do. We’re trying to get those problems solved."

To enter the Gulf of Mexico from the sound, boaters must currently enter through Destin, 20 miles to the east, or Pensacola, 25 miles to the west. There is no access on Navarre Beach.

In 1965, the 150-feet wide Navarre Pass was opened just 150 yards from the Navarre Beach Park. But it was short-lived when Hurricane Betsy closed the pass after only two months. The pass has been closed ever since. Opposition against the pass say they are concerned about over-development and environmental issues.

Eglin Air Force Base, which owns land adjacent to the pass, also expressed concerns about reopening the pass and increasing human activity in close proximity to the Gulf testing range.

Sims said he's in favor of the pass and hopes that is the next big win for Navarre Beach.

"I'd love to see it," he said. "It would bring a lot to the economy. The majority of residents are in favor of the pass. I manage vacation rentals and we have visitors come all the time with their boats, but they can't get into the Gulf."

The fee simple bill will now move to the Senate where a companion bill has already been introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio.

"This is how legislation should work," Gaetz said. "People have pushed for change and now that change is finally coming."