In the end, Howard Sklar, the owner of the involuntarily-dormant, endlessly embattled Flagler Beach Marina on the Intracoastal, just wanted to be certain of one thing Monday afternoon: “Make sure the notary comes in here with her stamp,” he told Jay Livingston, the attorney who’s been by Skalr’s side since filing a lawsuit against the City of Flagler Beach on Feb. 19, 2010.
The notary showed up, with her stamp. Sklar signed the settlement agreement that had been batted back and forth between him and city commissioners since December. And that was it. Livingston brought the signed agreement to City Hall around 4 p.m. City Clerk Penny Overstreet sent a brief email to commissioners letting them know Sklar had signed, though Overstreet’s news wasn’t so urgent that the agreement couldn’t wait until morning to be scanned and emailed to them. This morning, Mayor Linda Provencher signed the document (see below), and the matter was officially settled but for a few lawyerly formalities.
A re-hearing scheduled before Circuit Judge Scott DuPont for tomorrow morning was cancelled. A pending appeal by the city at the 5th District Court of Appeal goes away.
Thus ended a nearly eight-year legal battle over what could and could not be built, assembled, manufactured or repaired at the marina, where Sklar since the late 1990s has been intending to build houseboats and run the operation as a marina, with a restaurant, something even the settlement’s opponents thought would be a fine complement to a beach-side city like Flagler Beach. They just didn’t want it to be noisy or smelly.
“For it to have gone on as long as it has, there’s no winners, we’re all losers,” City Commissioner Joy McGrew, who voted against the settlement as recently as last Thursday, said this afternoon. She was never opposed to a marina in the city, she said. “If it was just supposed to be a marina, nobody in the community would have a problem whatsoever.” The objection was to the kind of work that would be done on the property, whether assembling, fixing or building boats, with its noise and odors wafting over to a neighborhood lined with close-cropped homes. The agreement addresses those concerns–not as much as McGrew and Commission Chairman Jane Mealy wanted, but enough that three other commissioners, Rick Belhumeur, Kim Carney and Marshall Shupe, endorsed it.
Now, McGrew says she wants the marina to be successful. “It’s a win-win once it opens,” she said.
Sklar was similarly underwhelmed.
“I have mixed thoughts, but we have to go on with our lives,” Sklar said late this afternoon. He could not resist making a few wild jokes in keeping with his roller-coaster humor–usually intended to keep whomever he’s speaking with off balance–or skewering officials. As for the marina itself, he said: “I’m looking right now for inspectors to inspect the damage, if any, to our marina. I don’t want to open a marina that’s not safe, just like the city with the pier.”
That was almost all that could be drawn from him regarding the marina in a nearly half-hour conversation.
The agreement may not have resulted in signatures from all sides without Belhumeur’s intervention, the commission’s newest member. He developed a special rapport with the mercurial Sklar, visiting him, parsing the commission’s latest interpretations with him, and going as far as making suggestions to the wording of the agreement to get it approved.
“That was one of my goals when I became a commissioner,” Belhumeur said this afternoon, speaking not far from the marina grounds. “That’s a huge amenity for this city, and having been a boater all my life it was kind of hard to look down at that empty marina every time I went over the bridge.”
Over the last months he’d developed a form of shuttle diplomacy between Sklar and the commission, at least to the extent that he kept Sklar negotiating, and kept the discussions on the commission’s agenda. Both tactics proved key to the resolution, unusual though it is: the commission never delegated Belhumeur to be its Kissinger, though he didn’t make a secret of it when speaking from the dais at the commission. “I couldn’t quote things said behind closed doors,” Belhumeur said, referring to his commission’s closed-door sessions with their attorney, when the commission could freely discuss strategy in the case, “but I came back and told Howard, put this in there, that’ll get you somewhere. That’s how we came up with the building idea.”
That was the building the commission was asking him to build, and in which he would have to move the bulk of his labor on the property. That was also the building that, in the very latest version, appeared less of a certainty than a possibility, losing Mealy’s and McGrew’s vote.
Sklar had sent the commission that latest wording of the agreement he had signed last week, but commissioners made a few further changes. They didn’t amount to much, despite the renewed uncertainty about the building. But for a while, it looked as if it was just enough to keep the case going.
“When I first approached Howard he was, ‘I guess we’re going back to court,'” Belhumeur said of his meeting with Sklar after last Thursday’s commission meeting. The two men sat down with the agreement and went over it line by line. Belhumeur read to him the exact changes that had been recommended. Sklar was skeptical. He was OK with what he was hearing from Belhumeur, but worried that once the city’s lawyer was done with the document, the wording would be more than met his eye just then. That spoke to the mistrust that had barnacled over both sides’ eyes over the years, Barnacles Belhumeur had not had time to nurture in his year and a half on the commission.
“I explained to him what happened at the meeting,” Livingston said of his own interactions with Sklar after last Thursday, “the impact or lack thereof of the revisions the commission proposed, because in my opinion it didn’t really change anything, and he informed me at the end of the weekend that he was ready to sign.” But Livingston, like Sklar, was not clear about what was ahead for the marina, other than being able top focus on the business moving forward rather than on litigation.
For McGrew, it’s now a matter of waiting and seeing how the marina is operated, and whether it becomes an issue in the neighborhood. “It feels to me like we’re really encroaching on the rights and privileges and the zoning of the residents down there, by allowing him to even build boats, vessels, barges, I don’t care what you call them,” she said, though a court order made clear that if the city was not letting Sklar assemble boats, the city would be encroaching on his rights, not the other way around.
But McGrew also stresses that she wants to see the business operational and thriving. “Hopefully it’ll never come back across our desks,” the commissioner said.
As for Sklar, when he was done joking about Armageddon, about installing anti-missile battery on his grounds and flying to Iran in four days to talk about opening an embassy in Flagler Beach (“If I can give them an embassy, then I can have sovereign entitlement,” he said, leaving it unclear why it should be Iran as opposed to, say, Jamaica), he put it this way: “The people in charge are very good, they’re fine, they’re gracious, but they’re more ignorant and non-caring than any place else in the state. They seem to be caring after the fact, but only to be covering their asses.”
Considering the years and expense Sklar had spent battling Flagler Beach and seeing his business in limbo as a result, the assessment was remarkably mild, even kind.
The Signed Settlement Agreement Over the Flagler Beach Marina (2017)