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Flagler County Will Buy 11 Billboards on A1A and I-95 and Eliminate Most of Them By 2016

| June 3, 2013

The familiar, double-sided billboard at the intersection of A1A and Camino del Mar, the road that leads to the Hammock Dunes Bridge. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The familiar, double-sided billboard at the intersection of A1A and Camino del Mar, the road that leads to the Hammock Dunes Bridge. It’ll be gone in three years. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

They loom large and ugly. They splinter views and assault the eye, screaming messages as discordant with their surroundings as they are intentionally distracting. If they’re not vulgar for what they blare, their existence is vulgarity enough. But billboards in most states are a fact of road-life, as they have been in Flagler County.

This morning, a few were read their last rites.

It’s been a long-awaited demise: 10 of the 26 billboards on State Road A1A in Flagler County will be gone in about three years.

In what amounts to a novel way of using public dollars for environmental enhancements, the Flagler County Commission Monday voted unanimously to spend $140,000 to acquire 11 billboards in all, including one on I-95, and remove all but one or two of them by the latter part of 2016.

“Removing 10 out of 26 billboards on A1A is a rare opportunity, probably once in a lifetime,” Dennis Clark, a member of the Scenic A1A Pride and Friends of A1A groups , said, “to make a real difference to our local national treasure that gives us a glimpse of old Florida, and is an inspiration to us all, and will be for generations to come.”

Both groups as well as the Hammock Conservation Commission—whose president, Abby Romaine, endorsed the billboard-acquisition plan—have been striving for almost two decades to get rid of as many billboards as possible, with little success despite what appeared to be an anti-billboard victory a few years ago.

In September 2009, the county passed an ordinance that would restrict billboards or electronic signs to I-9, at least in unincorporated territory, phasing out the rest. But the phase-out period could be decades-long. The ordinance prohibits re-permitting abandoned signs or repairing signs at a cost of more than 50 percent of their value (in a two-year period), but its enforcement has always been foggy. Cities along A1A (including Flagler Beach, Palm Coast, Beverly Beach and Marineland) could each opt to stick with billboards. In 2009, there were 59 billboards in unincoroporated Flagler County, and 127 in all.

Most billboards haven’t budged.

Jim Cullis, the local developer, is buying 14 of the billboards on A1A and I-95, and will be selling 11 of them to the county. (Cullis is the Grand Haven developer who last year appeared before the Palm Coast City Council to win approval for an assisted-living and medical complex near the Woodlands. He was successful.) The county will pay $80,000 for 10 billboards on A1A (four large billboards for $12,500 each, four smaller ones for $7,500 each; two billboards will be acquired at no cost).

Keep in mind, not every billboard is a separate structure. For example, the billboard at the intersection of A1A and the road that leads to the Hammock Dunes Bridge, one of the more massive and ugly ones–it stabs out from the wood-line across six pylons, literally sundering the view into the Hammock–counts for two billboards under the county’s acquisition, each costing $12,500, because of its two sides.

The money will come out of the general fund, but only initially. The money will be reimbursed by close-out dollars from the completion of the Hammock Dunes Development of Regional Impact. In other words, the Admiral Corporation’s responsibility under the DRI agreement mean its money will pay for the A1A billboard acquisition.

Last September, the Scenic A1A Pride group met and voted to recommend that closeout funds be used for that purpose, as billboard removal was ranked first on the group’s priorities.

As part of the agreement with Cullis, and to keep the county’s costs down, Cullis will still use the 10 billboards on A1A to generate advertising revenue for the next three years. Only then will the billboards be turned over to the county. The county may choose to keep one or two for its own advertising.

The county’s acquisition of the I-95 billboard is part of the same agreement, but under different terms. The county could have acquired it for $20,000 and waited three years, or paid $60,000 now and acquire it immediately, and use it to advertise tourism or economic development matters directly related to Flagler County. Commissioners chose that latter option. The $60,000 will be paid out of either Tourist Development Council dollars (which are generated through the county’s 4 percent bed tax supplement, levied on hotel, motel and other short-term rental bookings) or out of its economic development funds, which come out of the general fund.


“We started off by figuring out how to trade a greater evil for a lesser evil, which would be more billboards on I-95, and that really was problematic,” Cullis said. “So we came up with this agreement, which gives us a much lower price than we anticipated but it also gives us three years to finish leasing out the boards before we turn them over, so I think it’s a very good deal for everybody. I live on A1A so I’m happy to see the boards go.”

Commissioners had no objections. “I think that A1A has a number of organizations that come together, work together to make that entire coastline more scenic, more enjoyable,” Commissioner Frank Meeker said. “I find there’s a place for billboards. I don’t like the density that I see on I-95 or I-75 up into Georgia, so anything that can be done to reduce the density I think is a good thing, and I think that this is a fair agreement.”  He called billboards “visual blight.”

Carol McCleary, a resident of the Hammock immersed in its stewardship, told commissioners: “My highs School English teacher illustrated the terms ‘dangling participle’ with a sentence: ‘While walking down the street one day, a billboard met my eye.’ Far too many of them meet my eye when I drive up and down A1A. I’ve lived in the Hammock since 1995 and I don’t regard them as attractive assets to our scenic highway, and my opinion has obviously been shared by the Hammock neighbors.”

She added: “The county recently passed a new ordinance that prevents new signs, and we tried to figure out how to get some of the old ones to be phased out and put in some carrots for the companies to try to phase them out and move to 95. But it’s time. Let’s get rid of these billboards.”

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37 Responses for “Flagler County Will Buy 11 Billboards on A1A and I-95 and Eliminate Most of Them By 2016”

  1. Anon1 says:

    And the question has been asked what constitutes this region’s anti business image.?

  2. Pedro says:

    Ah !! I was hoping they were going to put up a couple South of the Border signs near the Hammock. You know like: Pedro says: You never sausage a place !!!!

  3. there are three sides to every story says:

    While this is a good idea I’m confused as to where the money comes from to pay for this wonderful project…private or public? If public then I can’t but wonder if they don’t have enough money to keep their offices clean and or close the budget shortfalls how can they write the check for this project as wonderful as it seems?

  4. Cha Ching says:

    No common sense. Not fiscally responsible. Another developer gets a pot of gold! Lets not forget the Hammock is the county attorney, Al Hadeeds back yard. 2014 is an election year…vote these commissioners out!!!!!

    • Abby Romaine says:

      Dear Cha Ching,
      This project is not funded by your tax dollars. This billboard buyout program will be paid for by the funds available through the interlocal agreement between Hammock Dunes and Flagler County at the close of the DRI. This agreement specifies that the funds be used for beautification projects in the Hammock that are for the benefit of the general public.The agreement specifically identifies the purchase of billboards as a use of the funds. The proposal put forth by Mr. Cullis was the best deal to date; this cost-savings makes available DRI closeout dollars to fund other projects for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors of the Hammock.

      If you send an email to abby.romaine@gmail.com, I will be happy to forward the interlocal agreement.

  5. Steve says:

    This is wonderful news! A very creative solution to an intractable dilemma. Let’s face it, have you ever met anyone who likes billboards? It’s been a long time since Lady Bird Johnson launched her campaign to beautify America’s highways, and her legacy has finally touched our scenic stretch of A1A. Kudos to all who participated in this plan.

  6. Billybob says:

    This is great for residents and tourists, not having the scourge of signs everywhere, unlike other counties in the state that have SO many signs that you ignore all of them.

    The only negative regarding the restriction on billboards/signs in the county and Palm Coast is it really does make it difficult to find places (you pretty much have to know what you’re looking for) and drivers along I-95 / A1A / US1 not familiar with the area may think there’s no reason to stop for anything in this county as it almost appears “empty” compared to the dozens of billboards you see just before an exit announcing food and shops in other cities. With everything beautifully hidden by trees it’s so easy to overlook stores of all kinds. Until recently I had no idea we have a Zaxby’s in Palm Coast! I love Zaxby’s and don’t want them to fail just because nobody knows they are there. I’m sure local businesses feel frustrated at times having to almost hide their storefronts from public view with miniaturized generic signs and heavy landscaping.

    Personally, I still find it difficult to mentally grasp where a local business is located when all it advertises is a plaza name. If you’re in local business you pretty much have to make a name for yourself because you really can’t rely on walk-in customers.

    I wonder if those blue highway information signs could be prominently installed that promote “Gas / Shopping / Food” to at least let people know that if they travel east / west they will encounter local businesses in lieu of the billboards? If a driver was unfamiliar with Palm Coast and heading up/down A1A it’s unlikely they would head west over the Hammock Dunes bridge into the “land of the unknown” not knowing what’s over the bridge. It looks like nothing is over the bridge from the A1A side. Same for US1. You look down Palm Coast Parkway and just see trees and traffic. Palm Coast is an easy city to ignore when you’re heading North/South. (Good, or bad, depends on your perspective).

    • Florida Billboard Advertising Services says:

      For many years the billboards in this county were controlled by ITT/CDC the developers of Palm Coast. They had 250 billboards that pointed out of towners to our town, This was the lowest cost and most effective advertising they ever did. Any of you remember the Garfield campaign? I know this because I took care of them. There were also beautiful boards directing people to Flagler Beach with photos of our beach and pier. Yes there are some that you may think are ugly, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Palm Coast, Beverly Beach and Marineland all had lots of billboards that helped them develop into what they are today. Had the county taken over the billboards when ITT pulled out they could have kept a great campaign on the highway and made sure they where promoting the whole area, not just a jumble of different places. Buy the billboards, but don’t destroy them use them to help our businesses with a message that will not only be directional information, but make people want to stop and visit for awhile. You make fun of South of the Border, but when I first stopped there as a kid all they had was a small gift shop and a donkey tied to a tree. When I first came here there was no interchange for Palm Coast and no bridge, but over 100 people a day stopped and took a boat tour to see Palm Coast from A1A due to the very signs you are taking down. The newspapers and web-sites are promoting the billboards coming down. They are not stupid, if you can’t spend your advertising bucks on billboards, you will spend you money with them.

  7. Billybob says:

    View into Palm Coast from US-1:
    http://goo.gl/maps/kaqsX

    View into Palm Coast from A1A:
    http://goo.gl/maps/vUDWi

    View into Palm Coast from I-95:
    http://goo.gl/maps/8Cxkq

    Looks pretty desolate from all angles if you don’t know what’s here. We do want people to stop and shop here, right?

  8. Merrill Shapiro says:

    Well done Flagler Commissioners!

  9. kmedley says:

    Budget shortfalls, possible considerations for tax increases; but, by gosh we have the funds to buy billboards! AMAZING!

  10. Bob Z. says:

    I’ve lived in the Marineland area for years and think that the area should have zero billboards – I actually approve of my tax dollars being spent to remove as many as possible.

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    While I am certainly no fan of bill boards. . . especially big ugly ones. I have no problem with them along I95. . . how else will tourists be attracted to our communities? Especially, since surrounding areas along I95 have bill boards promoting “their” local businesses.

    Regarding the ones on A1A, why not consider replacing them with smaller, more tasteful ones? We live in Flager Beach, and even we have a hard time finding any business in Palm Coast. Not being able to use a sign to “point” to the location of businesses in the newly designed shopping centers with no outward indication of a commercial district and where there is almost “secret” access. . . is spelling the complete demise of places like “The European Village”. . . which is very difficult to find because if signage restrictions.

    Local community commissioners need to work much more closely with business leaders to assist them in promoting their businesses in an assertive and tasteful way. If our businesses are not successful, we have nothing but a bunch of houses whose property values will suffer even more. Florida is a tourists based economy. We all need to support our local companies so that they will continue to attract visitors (who generate revenues and pay taxes), create jobs, and provide the services we need and enjoy.

    If we take down the ugly bill boards, they need to be replaced with something even better to help our commercial enterprises thrive.

  12. Ralph Belcher says:

    Signs come into the public forum again.

    I’m not sure if I’m 100% for eliminating billboards. It sends shades of an anti-business attitude. Maybe those advertisers will rebuff government or quasi-government request to sponsor local events – sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

    But what plucked a chord of interest is that the county, strongly interested in eliminating billboards wants to use them to ADVERTISE thier wares (tourism, etc)? It causes our county authorities to look a bit darn hypocritical, yes? If you want them gone, then perhaps we should be consistent with the message. Or at least honest. It’s not OK for you to have billboards but, I’ll keep a few.

    This is like something I noted at a Palm Coast City Council meetingi a year or two ago. One of our esteemed institutions, Florida Hospital Flagler, asked for an electronic sign at the entry on SR 100 (is that Hospital Drive?). The city council scrunched their noses, scratched thier hind ends and said, no, I think it’s going to cause a rash of traffic accidents. Hmm. Turn the page to a City Festival held in Town Center (parades, etc) and there’s several construction type flashing message boards in the city’s medians (Belle Terre, and also on SR 100), announcing the event/turn here, or parade cancelled due to rain, etc.

    I don’t think that I would say I’m against the directional signs, they are useful. However, the city on the surface seems to crack it’s own codes when it comes to ITS’ own interest. Didn’t see Bill Lewis or Mary Destafano demand that those signs go back to the garage… food for thought.

    Kudos to Jim Cullis, community developer for intervening with some financial assistance to help the anti-sign folks gain momentum. A nice example of private interests assisting public interest. And that can’t be all bad.

  13. The Professor says:

    What a waste of tax payers money! And not to mention a blow to local businesses trying to advertise.

  14. Ella says:

    Yesterday was a wonderful example of our government at work. Thank you to Jim Cullis for stepping up and for the county to handle it with no haggling.

  15. confidential says:

    The wealthy alongside A1A that want no billboards on their eye-scape should buy them out, not forced all of us in the west side of the intracoastal to pay for them. As for myself those signs never bother me…especially now if they force us to pay for them and why is Cullis buying them first and afterwards selling them to the county,why doesn’t the county buy them up front? Another developer sweet deal on our hard earned taxes? Shame. Again commissioners wasting our funds while demanding to rise our taxes!!

  16. FINALLY! Palm Coast’s WORST problem is being addressed! Heaven forbid anything be done about education, crime, rampant drug use, the job market, the economy, homeless, dilapidated buildings, poor street lighting, poor parks and walk ways, or any of the other issues the county faces on a daily basis, the REAL scourge was clearly billboards!

    Let’s drop about 100K on flowers to put in their place because businesses hate advertisements and love flowers..because this is apparently the Twilight Zone.

    Was recently told by a contractor that he couldn’t do business here because the city made life too hard for him so he operates in other counties that don’t have the backwards rules just to have rules. Same week, someone told me they moved their offices from this county because his new office’s utility bills are a fraction of what they were.

    Billboards are the real issue here, though, totally.

  17. hiredtekneck says:

    nothing better to do? how about buy some billboards and tear em down!!

    dont have money to do it? well tax the locals!!

    the locals dont like it? do it behind closed doors!

  18. Rain says:

    I can only hope that this is one of the stories, along with the Old hospital and Old Courthouse that everyone remembers at election time. We have a budget shortfall and the Commissioners are voting to buy billboards! They complain that our county buildings are dirty but cut the budget for a janitorial position. I just don’t get it. We are losing good workers to surrounding counties because we don’t take care of our workers. They have not even had a cost of living raise in at least 3 years. I realize that everything has gone up but we are going to lose more good workers if we don’t do something to keep them.

  19. Magnolia says:

    Jim Cullis scores again! How much are you going to make off the taxpayers of this county on this one, Mr. Cullis? You and the our esteemed County Administrator have become quite close.

    Anybody else had it with the favoritism developers are getting around here ahead of the needs or what’s best for the citizens?

    We have to do better than this with government. But we can’t do it if people won’t bother to show up and vote.

  20. Chase says:

    So now our tax dollars are being spent on “buying billboards”, when there are lives to be saved on the west side of Flagler and about to go down to 2 firefighters on a truck for some shifts. Those billboards should be the least of our worries considering the condition Flagler County is in right now.

  21. justin says:

    and the county is crying poverty for the school system… Yeah this county has their priorities straight!

  22. Aggravated says:

    I must say that not only am I aggravated by our “esteemed” County Commission’s decision to buy up these billboards from Mr. Cullis (after he buys them outright and sells them to the county for a profit), I am also a touch ticked off that they would in turn cry broke and demand an increase in our taxes! Each of the Commissioners, in one way or another, has their own business in the county somewhere……yet they also receive a hefty salary for their position as County Commissioner. If you want to be a politician, fine. Sell your business and go about your political careers. If you want to play politician (much like those in Washington, D.C. and in Tallahassee) just so you can have your names in the paper and get your picture on Flagler Live…….then give up all of your political salaries and put them towards the budget shortfalls. I am sure each of you can live without your menial Commissioners’ salaries for one year, after all, you do want what is best for Flagler County am I correct? I mean, this is surely an option that nobody on the Commission even considered as viable. Therefore, not all options were exhausted prior to the request (which seemed more like a demand to me) for a tax increase.

    Take that money, which I am sure would come close to a few hundred thousand dollars or more, and use that money to help the schools out. Also, take the $140,000 you are using to purchase these billboards and hire a few teachers. Let Mr. Cullis demolish the billboards at his own expense if he wants them gone rather than at the expense of the tax payers. Better yet, do not approve the final vote on the purchase of the old hospital, and use that money to help the schools out as well. That would be another $1.4 million or so towards this short-fall to reinstate 45 minutes to the school days and resource officers in Elementary schools. I just find it absolutely astonishing that the County Commission can always find money to help out their business buddies in the community who are struggling, yet they cry broke when an actual situation that requires funding comes to the forefront.

    Apparently the keys to running a successful career as a County Commissioner here in Flagler County are as follows:
    1- Always help out your fellow lawyers or contractors when there is a chance for them to profit at the expense of the tax payers. After all, it is not your money is it?
    2- Always promote fiscal responsibility at the top of your lungs, while arranging deals using back-door politics and then asking for community and voter input long after the deal has already been inked.
    3- Always ignore the real issues plaguing the county and the tax payers, such as emergency services on the west side of the county in Daytona North, plummeting school ratings and FCAT scores, a failing school system, and many other issues that are of no concern to the Commission. After all, they are not in danger of losing their homes due to unemployment issues.
    4- Cry broke and demand tax increases to pay for necessities that do not fit your political agendas while wasting tax payer money on stupid projects that in no way benefit the county or the tax payers.

    If you want a political agenda, simply pack your bags and move to DC and become a lobbyist. Who knows, maybe your brother can get you elected President too!

  23. confidential says:

    Dear Abby. Yes please, clarify who really pays for the billboards with documents please as your words are totally opposed at what this editorial itemized, that I figured comes from the county administration.
    I am still shocked that you support this expenditure of our hard earned taxes, if truly we are all paying for it, as would be contradicting the platform of your campaign for a county commissioner seat in 2012.

    • Abby Romaine says:

      Dear Confidential,
      The purchase of the billboards on A1A in the Hammock will be paid for by the funds available from the close-out of the Hammock Duned DRI, per the interlocal agreement between Hammock Dunes and Flsgler County–NOT your hard-earned tax dollars. These funds are designated solely for the purpose of funding community enhancements in the Hammock. My support of this comports with my campaign motto, ‘working WITH developers, NOT FOR them.’

      Please email Abby.romaine@gmail.com and I will forward the agreement to you.

  24. Will says:

    There are times that it might make sense to require letter writers here to pass a quiz on the issues posed in the article. Don’t accept and post the letter until the writer understands the facts presented in the article. Where the money comes from to pay for the billboards comes to mind – for it’s all spelled out.

  25. DoubleGator says:

    It amazes me that folks can read but not hear. The bottom line here is that NO tax dollars are used except to make a bridge loan initially. Developers funds are used which were exclusively set asside for such purposes as this. I for one will like having A-1-A free of this blight. Any time I need a billboard fix I will drive down 100 or 95.

    Nice work Commissioners and Mr. Cullis! Thank you.

  26. tulip says:

    I said a while back, that with the new BOCC we now have, to watch out because spending is going to dramatically increase.Now the wealthy and influential people have gotten on Coffey’s “to do” list and the commissioners are going right along with everything that’s wanted. It’s like they have free rein.

    Budgets do increase somewhat because the state may mandate some things, expenses do go up, etc. While people may complain about a tax raise, the past 4 years budgets have been pretty much kept in check, and when people settle down, they realize that most of the increases were either necessary or justified and really don’t mind when the money goes for worthwhile things like firestations. services, etc.

    Now the budget will increase even more because the BOCC is paying money out for all kinds of things that are over priced, broken, catering to the infuential and their own wants list.

    No BOCC is perfect anywhere, but this new one we now have leaves a lot to be desired. JMO

  27. BeachResident says:

    Wow, how ironic! I wonder if Mr. Cullis is getting at least $7,500 for his billboard in a pristine area of Colbert Lane advertising his “Coming Soon Assisted Living” project. You can view it while traveling south on Colbert from Palm Coast Parkway. Sounds to me like we are making deals with the devil, no thanks!

  28. rickg says:

    I bet that somewhere LadyBird Johnson is smiling…Way to go Flagler County. Thank you for making your county more beautiful.

  29. pete says:

    Here we go again, spend spend spend, next week it will be crying time, we need money.

  30. Nancy N. says:

    To everyone complaining about tax dollars being spent on this…please read the article again. No tax dollars are being spent. The money is coming from a dedicated fund that was created as part of the development of the Hammock area.

    • Rain says:

      This quote comes right out of the article:

      “The money will come out of the general fund, but only initially. The money will be reimbursed by close-out dollars from the completion of the Hammock Dunes Development of Regional Impact”.

      So the County does pay, first, and then will be reimbursed. Let’s hope the money is there for the reimbursement. If we don’t get it back, we paid for the billboards.

      My question is why do the taxpayers have to put up the funds and wait for reimbursement? When is that expected, anybody know?

    • Magnolia says:

      To Nancy N: And where did the money in that dedicated fund come from?

  31. this is dumb says:

    I’m so glad the people who made their money up north and choose to retire here don’t like billboards. Heaven forbid all the people who work in the service industry not having a chance to capture the tourists attention on A1A to the people passing by looking for a place to eat, generally if a place has money for a billboard they are a well off establishment… Congratulations Flagler, have fun when that huge drop in tax revenue comes 2014! Complete idiots.

  32. Kay Johnston says:

    A significant part of Palm Coast and Flagler county was built because of billboards. Yet again the city has chosen the mantra of “I am here so close the doors.” And also proving how unfriendly they are to business!

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