When the matter of the Matanzas Woods golf course’s foreclosure last came up in Flagler County Circuit Court on May 31, the golf course’s owners were a no-show. The next day, Circuit Judge Scott DuPont signed an order striking what defenses the golf course owners had produced (and not produced), handing Palm Coast government a victory. The next step would be judgement of foreclosure, which would then presumably enable the property to be auctioned off.
On Thursday, Palm Coast moved for a final judgment of foreclosure based on liens and money owned: $58,553 to the utility department and $170,138 in fines due Code Enforcement, for a total of $228,691.
The Matanzas Woods golf course has been a thorn in Palm Coast government‘s side and that of residents surrounding the golf course, who have pressured the city to act. Residents have been unhappy with the state of the disused golf course, blaming it for damaging their property values and opportunities to sell. The city followed through, at first attempting to resolve the problem by compelling the course owners to better maintain it, then last spring filing suit to foreclose.
The golf course is owned by attorney Michael Yokan and Stephen Richardson, who bought it under the name of Group Golf of Palm Coast LLC some three years ago for $266,800. They were sketchy last year about their plans for the course.
On May 11 Group Golf filed suit against Palm Coast to enjoin it from “arbitrarily and selectively enforcing alleged ordinances and regulations regarding the condition and maintenance” of the Matanzas Golf Course. It challenges the city on numerous grounds and states, to the likely surprise of the property owners surrounding the old golf course, that it “will readily be reclassified as an organic farm” as Golf Group “has no desire to engage in a widespread herbicide program which would contaminate the entire property with undesirable chemicals.”
The city has not required chemical treatment, however, merely maintenance. That lawsuit has not been scheduled for a hearing. It is also in circuit court, before DuPont. Palm Coast’s likely answer is a motion for dismissal.
After Palm Coast filed suit in 2016, the group responded last February in an eight-page filing that the city was acting illegally. It claimed, for example, that it did not use utility services as the city says it did, making the utility lien invalid. The group then denied having not paid utility fees and demanded proof that it had not (proof the city provided in line by line detail). It took much the same approach regarding the code enforcement lien, again disputing that it was not in compliance with city codes, and challenging the constitutionality of the code as applied to the golf course. (The city’s Code Enforcement Board ordered foreclosure of the lien on March 17, 2016). Code enforcement liens have the same power to be enforced as any court judgment. The city proceeded along those lines.
In sum, Group Golf denied that it owed Palm Coast “any funds at all” or that “the property is not presently in compliance with the municipal code.” Rather, Group Golf claimed, Palm Coast did not base its allegations on the city code, but on standards the city obtained from the Professional Golf Association “concerning the height of the grass on tournament level golf courses,” Group Golf’s answer to Palm Coast’s complaint reads, “and then applied this arbitrary standard which is contained nowhere in either the city’s code or any statiute, to [Group Golf]’s property, despite [the Matanzas Golf Corse] not having operated as a golf course for a decade.”
Group Golf’s position is that the acreage should simply be treated as vacant property, “and not a functioning golf course.” The group then alleges that it was being treated differently than other real estate developers, “including Jim Cullis, the course of the code enforcement complaints which led to the purported fines and lien in this case,” the group states in its answer. Cullis had tried previously to buy the property from the group. He would now be positioned to take ownership of the property through foreclosure. (Brad West, one of the residents around the golf course, has chronicled some of the history in detail here.) The group also included allegations that the city had violated its due process.
“The city, in applying a standard promulgated by a non-governmental entity, which is neither binding nor even advisory,” the group concluded, acted outside of the scope of its authority.”
Palm Coast disagreed. In a six-page answer of its own–a motion to strike the Group Golf’s affirmative defenses–the city argued that Group Golf never so much as appealed the decision of the code enforcement board, which in essence–according to the city, based on legal precedent–invalidates the group’s subsequent claims.
“Because [Golf Grop] failed to appeal the code enforcement board orders, [Group Golf] waived the right” to constitutional defenses, while the circuit court “lacks jurisdiction to address the defenses.” The city asked the judge to strike Group Golf’;s defenses, which DuPont did.
Group Golf could have made its arguments before the judge on May 31, when a hearing was scheduled, but did not show. The group was represented by Christopher Wickersham Jr., a Jacksonville attorney.