Joy Ellis is the vice president of the Hammock Community Association, whose voices are among those that caused the Flagler County Commission to pause and rethink plans to expand Captain’s BBQ at Bing’s Landing, at least in the one location the county administration had proposed. The association did so, not least, through a legal appeal of the county’s disputed lease amendment with Captain’s.
On Wednesday, Ellis met with Commissioners Charlie Ericksen and Greg Hansen, in succession, at the Government Services Building in Bunnell. She wanted to tell them–as a private citizen rather than a representative of the association–about her experience with county staff during a previous development issue, an experience that had not gone well. Ellis was hoping the outcome might be different regarding Bing’s. She was looking for more transparency and willingness on the administration’s part to provide objective answers to various questions, rather than answers predicated by what the administration wanted to see happen on a given issue.
The meeting went well with Ericksen–jovial, relaxed, but for the odd appearance at the beginning of the meeting of Sean Moylan, from the county attorney’s office, who was told to sit in, along with Sally Sherman: he’d been told the meeting may involve personnel issues. Ericksen and Ellis told him he needn’t be there, and he left. When Sherman, the deputy county administrator, appeared, Ericksen shooed her off, too.
The meeting with Hansen did not start well. “My meeting with Commissioner Hansen started with him red-faced saying to me, ‘I am so mad I am going to build that fucking restaurant no matter what,'” Ellis wrote on Thursday in an email circulated to Hammock Community Association members. “Yes, he said f*********. I had not said anything at this point. He said his life was made miserable and that he was receiving hate mail. His integrity had been questioned, and he was mad. He said Mike is his friend, and he wants the restaurant on the planned location 3.”
Location 3, or Option 3, is the one option that former County Administrator Craig Coffey presented to the commission last month, when the commission approved the relocation of Captain’s toward the center of the park, an option Hammock residents and many others oppose for how it would jeopardize the character of the park. At the time, Coffey had not presented what would end up being five more options, one of them proving to be much more palatable to opponents of option 3, and even agreeable to Captain’s owners, as a compromise.
In her email, Ellis, who confirmed the details of her conversation with Hansen in a interview, said Hansen was “going to try to get this thing passed at the meeting on Monday night,” meaning on Jan. 14. “He has no interest or concern about the cost to the County which are not in the budget and as yet not totally quantified.”
Hansen, in an interview, did not dispute that his meeting with Ellis started on the wrong foot: he was truly upset, and had reason to be: “You can call me a lot of things and I don’t mind, but when you call me a crook and I lack integrity,” he said, referring to statements by critics who implied he’d acted improperly regarding Bing’s, “that really upset me, it really did, and I didn’t handle that very well. But I tried to explain to her why I was not in the best mood.”
Ellis agrees: as the meeting went on, for almost 40 minutes, Hansen was more affable, and entertained Ellis’s concerns and suggestion that Captain’s look at siting the restaurant on the Intracoastal outside Bing’s, at an old boating storage facility being turned into a restaurant and retail zone in the future. (The plan has gone before the Scenic A1A committee.) Hansen looked into it with Mike Goodman, the co-owner of Captain’s, and later wrote Ellis in an email that “Mike has met with the owner of the property we discussed. The owner will not be ready for a restaurant for three plus years.”
But Hansen disputed Ellis’s other take-away from his meeting with her: his mind is not made up, he said adamantly, he did not think the matter would even be ready to be discussed again at Monday’s meeting, since he’s asked the administration for a set of estimates that may not be ready, and he still sees a viable compromise in the siting of the restaurant.
“I said I prefer the original positioning because I didn’t want to deprive the public of the use of that picnic area, that covered pavilion, because that’s one of the most popular pavilions in the county,” Hansen said. “But if the consensus is to replace the pavilion with the restaurant and to move the pavilion up to where the restaurant was going to be, I can live with that, I can go with that. I prefer option 3, but I can live with option 4, that was my point.”
Goodman said he’d be willing to go with option 4 as a compromise, and a majority of the commission earlier this week seemed willing to go with that option, as did a majority of the audience attending a workshop on the issue.
The pavilion would likelier be moved to the existing restaurant’s location, so as not to recreate the same issue that provoked the controversy in the first place: the siting of the restaurant in the center of the park, an open, green area with unobstructed views on the Intracoastal.
Still, Hansen left Ellis with an impression reflected by another association member’s understanding of the meeting, framed in part by how Hansen and Coffey had appeared at an HCA meeting just last Tuesday: “Hansen arrived with a chip on his shoulder and announced Bing’s Landing was off the table,” that association member said. “He and Coffey went on to give a report on current and future Flagler County projects. Sadly, no one talked about the elephant in the room.”
When the commission’s agenda for Monday’s meeting was posted on the county’s website Friday–the first meeting where Coffey will no longer be present, since his resignation became effective today– the Bing’s landing issue was not on it.