The proposed expansion of Captain’s BBQ at Bing’s Landing, the county park, has mired the County Commission in confusion and controversy since news reports rather than the county administration brought the issue to light in mid-November. The cancellation of Wednesday’s pair of meetings on the matter was only the latest example of what has been a messy, seemingly improvised and unnecessarily hurried process, with a county park’s future character at stake.
A quick recap: the proposed expansion of the popular restaurant immediately triggered a fierce backlash from opponents, but also plenty of support, especially from the business community and Captain’s regulars, for the restaurant and its plans, which entail building a new, larger structure at the restaurant owners’ expense, expanding seating and having a liquor license.
Much of the criticism veered more toward the county administration’s bungling of the issue rather than toward Captain’s, since the restaurant is operating in a county park, in a lease arrangement with the county, within county rules. Then-Administrator Craig Coffey was criticized for lack of transparency and for hurrying the approval process through the planning board and the commission with scant vetting, and without providing other options, and two county commissioners (one of them since voted out) were criticized for their cozy relationship, underscored by campaign donations, with Captain’s owners.
The process hasn’t been less messy since. Not long before he was forced to resign, Coffey finally produced new options on the restaurant’s proposed re-location but stressed that keeping it where it was was unfeasible, as it would be too costly and would require the restaurant itself to cease operating during repairs, thus exposing the county to liability: it would be in breach of its lease with Captain’s. Attention started focusing on an option he’d never mentioned before–moving the restaurant a bit further west and south, close to the water, where trees would not be felled and the character of the park would not be significantly altered, and where the restaurant could yet expand.
Captain’s co-owner Mike Goodman said it would be a workable compromise. But opponents aided by the Hammock Community Association, who have continued weekly Sunday protests outside Bing’s for more than two months, are maintaining their opposition to any expansion of the restaurant, or to moving it.
Into the mess stepped Jerry Cameron, the new interim administrator, officially hired this week (he was selected last week), who only this week had his first chance to see Bing’s and Captain’s for himself. He visited the park and the restaurant with county staffers and a fiber-optic camera that was snaked behind walls and floors at the restaurant to give a better sense of the structure’s apparent damage.
The whole issue was to come to a head at a hurriedly arranged pair of meetings Wednesday (two days after the commission signed a contract with Cameron)–a workshop ostensibly designed to bring everyone and every Bing’s related issue up to date, followed by a special meeting where the commission would vote on its decisions. The commission since the Coffey days has been in the habit of scheduling those special, decision meetings immediately after workshops. It’s a way to get business done swiftly. It’s also an end-run around public participation and transparency, as it prevents issues discussed at workshops from being more broadly understood, vetted and digested. In Palm Coast, for example, workshops and decision meetings alternate from week to week, giving the public–if not council members–plenty of time to work through issues lining up for votes.
The procedural end-runs at the county, however, have been routine and normalized by repetition.
The mess this time was not just the pairing of meetings, the freshness of Cameron’s arrival or the mass of still-unripe issues before commissioners. It was the hurried timing, as illustrated by emails obtained by FlaglerLive in the run-up to the meetings.
County Attorney Al Hadeed wrote commissioners to tell them about the meeting on Saturday at 5:56 p.m., and to outline the three decisions they would have to make: where to locate the new restaurant; whether to go ahead with a new option for sewer service; and what to do about an administrative appeal by opponents of the restaurant’s expansion. (The meetings would have nothing to do with the restaurant’s size, seating capacity, or liquor license.) At 6:36 p.m., Hadeed told commissioners he’d completed the meeting materials and posted them to the county’s website.
“Your decision on the option is needed now, in order for the rest of the process to proceed,” Hadeed wrote the commissioners.” He then outlined some of the options before the board as they had been outlined at the last commission meeting on the issue: leaving the restaurant at its present site, moving it further toward the center of the park (the controversial option that triggered the ongoing backlash), or moving it closer to the Intracoastal Waterway, the so-called “Option 4” that seemed to win most commissioners’ support.
“I am uncomfortable about letting the status quo continue given the problems with the present structure,” Hadeed continued. “I believe we should move the process along to minimize our exposure. I think people have adequately made their view known to you and I know you have interacted with many people on these issues. Some parts of the decisions are ready to be decided, the key one being which option do you want the County to pursue.”
The email went further, introducing a new aspect to the discussion: whether to establish a temporary connection to the Dunes Community Development District’s utility plant, circumventing the park’s aging septic system and one of the central concerns of park advocates: how the restaurant and surrounding uses would continue to impact that septic system and the environment there. “This issue depends on how the Board weighs its commitment to bring sanitary sewer onto the barrier island,” Hadeed wrote. “Obviously, if the temporary extension is made and the restaurant is still part of Bings in some form, the owner will have to pay a connection charge to defray the County’s costs in obtaining service from the CDD and likewise for usage charges.” (Hadeed in a written statement to FlaglerLive says the Dunes connection was discussed at a Jan. 7 workshop. Minutes of the meeting don’t reflect that, though the item is mentioned in a powerpoint slide.)
At least one commissioner–Dave Sullivan, the key vote to reverse the commission’s approval in May of its lease amendment with Captain’s–was all for Hadeed’s approach. “Excellent information provided for the workshop On Bings,” Sullivan wrote the attorney within two hours. “I had forgotten some of the issues from our previous meeting on this. Let’s get this done and tackle some of the other tough issues facing the BOCC right now.”
Commissioner Joe Mullins was less enthusiastic. “Has jerry [sic.] had a chance to see the evaluation of current building and if it can be remodeled at a reasonable cost?” he asked. “I don’t want to rush things.” At the time, Cameron had not. Mullins then wrote a pair of emails reflecting his unhappiness with the scheduling. “When did this get scheduled,” he asked Hadeed. “I don’t like the last minute stuff. “I also have a lot of pressure about a waste water system workshop that hasn’t been scheduled.” He was referring to the simmering controversy over the Plantation Bay utility. “I think it may have more importance then a bbq workshop to the 3000 people it is impacting.”
He then wrote that he couldn’t make the Wednesday meeting. (Mullins was in a serious car crash last week, which totaled his Mercedes SUV and injured his arm and shoulder, for which he’s been in physical therapy.) “I need more notice on issues that aren’t pressing,” he wrote.
“I’m sorry but the issue is pressing from a liability exposure standpoint,” Hadeed wrote Mullins. “We will not be able to get to these discrete issues until April and that resets the clock for all else that follows, that is, delays those other steps by months. The Board can decide differently, clearly, so long as I have made them aware of the consequences.”
The possibility that the issue would have to be pushed to April was the result of Goodman leaving the country for a month in March. But Cameron in an interview Wednesday said despite Goodman leaving, the matter can still be brought to the commission, since Goodman’s partner, Chris Herrera, and their attorney, Jay Livingston, can handle the issue.
But Dennis Bayer and Jane West, the attorneys representing the Hammock Community Association, which is contesting Captain’s expansion, received notice of the meeting only Saturday, four days before the meetings. They both had a conflict on that day. “The notice may be deficient in that the BOCC is set to take formal action after the workshop,” Bayer wrote commissioners, referring to the Board of County Commissioners. “There is less than seven days public notice of a public hearing. There are also issues with the staff report that was received Saturday.”
The association remains opposed to expanding Captain’s beyond its current footprint. It is urging commissioners to stick with the building and to repair it rather than to move the restaurant anywhere in the park. The association wants seating limited to 100 people, not the 150 Captain’s is requesting, and it wants no liquor sales at the restaurant. It also wants parking provided “with a minimal amount of tree loss and no additional driveways.”
“The expansion to 150 seats is not consistent with the park’s creation but is an increased commercialization of the site,” Bayer wrote commissioners, reminding them of the park’s acquisition with Environmentally Sensitive Lands tax dollars. “We acknowledge that other parks have ancillary uses but an increase to 150 seats is not ancillary. An analogy would be to go from cabins in the Princess Place to locating a 50 room hotel. HCA opposes commercialization of the county’s parks.”
The association also wants a more rigorous analysis of the existing building’s conditions than was provided commissioners at a previous meeting. That analysis has not been carried out. But several of the issues raised by the association were not slated for discussion at the workshop or for a decision at the meeting, contrary to many people’s understanding of the meetings’ purpose.
Tuesday morning, Hadeed wrote several county government directors that “there is nothing to be gained by delaying the option choice and commencing the interface with the CDD over a temporary connection. There are process and liability implications to any delay since all decisions would thereby be pushed for two additional months.” He added: “The group Dennis represents has met individually with each commissioner consisting of many hours of meeting time. The meeting with Commissioner Mullins alone took a total of 3 hours and the meeting with Commissioner Sullivan took 90 minutes. They were also sent the petitions and numerous other emails and had numerous individual conferences, particularly Commissioner Hansen.”
In the end, with Mullins not making it to the meetings and with Bayer’s letter questioning whether the notice requirement was met, it appears that Cameron was willing to fall on that sword and push the meeting off. It was postponed to an undetermined date late Tuesday evening.
“I take full responsibility for that,” Cameron said Wednesday, “I had not had a chance to review that, and if I were asked questions by the board I wouldn’t be able to answer it. In the meantime I have gone out, I’ve taken some staff out, we’ve looked at the landscape.” He said he’d be prepared to move forward as early as next week.
Cameron said two things his predecessor had not: first, that if and when Captain’s builds a new restaurant at its own expense, he’d be more comfortable with the building’s title being immediately turned over to the county upon completion, “which puts it under our control.” Second, that “putting a much larger septic tank and a drain field out there raises some issues.”
He was less concerned with the liquor license. As long as the infrastructure stays what it is at Bing’s and the restaurant’s footprint doesn’t expand “to a degree that changes the character of that area, that’s not as big a concern to me,” Cameron said. “But again, that’s not my decision, my decision is to make whatever the board, the county commission decides, to work the best way possible. But it is also incumbent on me to provide them with info that is necessary to make a sound decision.”
A new date for Bing’s-related meetings has not been set.
Paul C Pritchard says
The Bing’s Landing decision should be delayed. Thanks to the stalwart citizens of the community and FlaglerLive.com, it seems the County Commission will “do the right thing,” we hope.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
My former adversary and current commissioner Joe Mullins and I agree 100% that the current wastewater/water decrepit system which services Plantation Reserves – a newer 75 home development, Dixie Commons Office Park,….and the county is negotiating with the owners of the old Hotel to, in addition to the over 2,000 homes is Plantation Bay is A FAR MORE SERIOUS ISSUE than trying to help millionaires become billionaires by allowing them to expand their just about rent free restaurant on OUR PRECIOUS PARKLAND. Bings Landing was refurbished and completed July 2012 totally with taxpayer funds for the boat basin, restoration of the seawall cap, concrete expensive floating docks which the county charges less rent per month than a 1 bedroom apartment costs! Furthermore Funky Pelican restaurant which also sits on government owned land ( Flagler Beach) pays well over $3,000 a month rent to Flagler Beach, in addition to more than 2% per year of the gross profits over $2million
Hammock Bear says
Bravo Jane !!! Many agree with you and current Commissioner, Joe Mullins. I would add to the list of Needs for the county, a new location for the Sherriff’s Dept.
Flagler Paddler says
The only option should be to remodel the existing building and connect it to the sewer system. If they want to go bigger why not move across the street!
Captain’s is a great asset. I hope the politicians and do-gooders do not ruin it.
Denise Calderwood says
Also as a former candidate for the commission seat Jane what we citizens fail to realize is that there are a lot of outstanding issues that need to be addressed like the overnight homeless problem that has been six years in the making…..Bings and Bull Creek were a Coffey special that we all allowed to happen and Plantation Bay has been going on for how long ???? Too long and now that Coffey is gone everything is coming out…it is too bad that everything is a rush. Why does it have to be…. fear of litigation in this issue and yours it is bound to happen anyway. In your case we were told 5 million was going to be enough but now it is apparently going to be much worse so now we all have to pay for his and the former Commissioners past sins. We just need to now hold the current Commissioners accountable and to stop having these rushed meetings!
Concerned Citizen says
It seems to me the underlying theme is mismanagement by Craig Coffey.
I hope the BOCC has learned from it’s mistake of being led by the nose for so many years. You got comfortable and lazy and let Craig do your job for you. Now all of this is coming to light.
I ony hope you don’t take the same path with this so called “Interim Manager” You spent a shameful amount of money hiring. It still baffles me as to why you would spend so much money with someone with very little experience and a complete outsider to fill in an “Interim” spot. I mean can you honestly tell me there is no one local and not well over retirement age to lead Flagler in a new direction?
I won’t be overly surprised when in a few months Mr.Cameron “has accepted” a full time position with Flagler County. You folks at the BOCC like to pretend we are stupid but we will pay attention.
Correction ….. It has NOT been well received by the business owners in the Hammock, not one of them!!! Need to get your facts straight! They don’t speak out or show their faces because they fear retaliation from the county. Yes , Captains will pay for the building itself and hook up to sewer if it goes that way (which is no one has that answer at this time) and don’t forget taxpayer will be paying for the sewer to run to Captains The rest of the costs of infrastructure fall on the burden of the taxpayer and Captains doesn’t have to pay property taxes, like every other property owner , residential or commercial .
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Denise… Yep ! you are right.
Poor Joe Mullins, crashing his Mercedes.
Just like I imagine with the new fat cat at 247,000 a year give away of our hard earned taxes is a rich that will be lobbying for the rich and Hadeed backing them up. Better be alert that our park will be given away…
@ Jane Gentile-Youd – Thank you! Which begs the question; What makes Captain’s BBQ any better or more special than the Funky Pelican? This whole thing with the expansion at Bing’s Landing smells “FISHY”!
Jim O says
Jane – news flash…. people can multi-task and do more than one thing at meetings. Grow up big girl. Your issue with Plantation Bay has been there forever and you sat on it. Now it is the be all end all of issues.. Come on.
County just hired this interim manager for $247,000/year: http://cleanupcityofstaugustine.blogspot.com/2017/11/jerry-cameron-caught-red-handed-with.html
Edith Campins says
Here we go again.
Why is this so important that it takes precedence over the more urgent matters facing the county? We have the situation with the Sheriff’s office, the failing water plant, the homeless camps and so many more important issues.
I still haven’t seen an answer on what the liability to the county would be if an alcohol related incident were to happen steming from Captains proposed liquor license. Alcohol is currently prohibited at public parks, what sort of a variance is the county going to grant Captains?
What exactly are the problems with the existing building and where are the cost estimates to fix the problems? It seems the county is till looking into the problems, as recently as the new manager’s visit.
Why, if we have to have (not) a restaurant at Bings wasn’t there a bid process that allowed other restaurants to compete?
How do we know if another restaurant would not offer more favorable contract terms to the county?
Why are the wishes of the business owners more important to our politicians than the wishes of the area residents?
How big and exactly where would the big new parking lot be located?
It seems that now that Coffey is gone Hadeed is assuming his mantle.
Lastly, what would be the cost to terminate whatever current agreement we have with Captains and start the process again and this time do it correctly without hiding it from the public?
Why wasn’t the sewage issue discussed before the rush to sign a contact with Captains?
Edith Campins says
Just a few more things…
Thank you Flaglerlive for keeping us informed. You are the only ones that have the public interest at heart.
Whatever happened to the government in the sunshine laws?
Lastly @ Thomas, who knew they were such a great asset, how much are they paying the county now? And if they are why wouldn’t their customers follow them to another location? The park was a great asset long before they came along.
Pack it up Captain's says
Get Captains off our property and let all of us enjoy what is our as it was intended. Captain’s NEVER should have opened there to begin with and if the county didn’t have a clause to end the lease at it’s option then the county should be held accountable and be fired. This was all a scheme of Coffey. McLaughlin and Hadeed. It is time for the BOCC to undo the mess the former administrator has put us in and hopefully other counties and states are learning of what a mess maker Coffey has been before they give him a chance to run their city or county in the ground.
It sounds to me like Hadeed needs to go…he is the County Attorney and yet he is setting the time schedule of meetings without adequate time for the commissioners AND the public to study the information. If he thinks that proper advance notice cause “policy and liability implications” then perhaps Hadeed should have done a better job and not set the stage for the County to be put at risk. This whole ordeal has been one big rush job that stinks. And Thoma, you can call those protecting the public’s assets as “do-gooders’ but I would rather be a “do-gooder” than a crony.
Aye! Here Here ,”Captains pack it up is right” go relocate should have never been allowed past a bait/ice shop if that
Jane Gentile-Youd says
A couple of ideas just for starters
Bings Landing …. Cancel corrupt lopsided lease with Captains–fire Hadeed
Take away Hadeed’s fat severance pay and hire Denise to help clean out the homeless camp.
Demolish Old contaminated Sheriff’s headquarters and dump the waste to Coffey’s big big back yard.
No more permits of any nature,: water- wastewater discharge- plats-or building nor CO’s-, for additional homes or offices added to the decrepit overloaded utility which serves 3 communities (only one is Plantation Bay) until safe and appoint citizen Water Board immediately to oversee, to investigate and to help resolve the current unsafe and overloaded system before it collapses altogether.
Amend the state statute to allow voters of ‘non-charter counties like us – FLAGLER- to remove useless elected officials from office via petition anytime, just like charter counties can ,instead of having to wait 4 years.between elections.
Oh yeah – least important but a real eyesore, Clean the bugs, mildew and dirt off the county building sidewalks, walls, etc and fix the damn broken clock in the lobby…….it is an embarrassment and sheer neglect by our public servants. I think that’s about it for today…
Sean peckham says
Can we say inside deal! The only restaurant I have ever heard of that pays 500.00 a month for rent ! Maby we need to investigate why the owner of captains bbq and his wife get such a good deal and why she can run a dance class out of the hammock community center with no tax payer benefit? Considering she charges for the class ! Looks like there is a lot more going on then the taxpayers know !
Wake up citizens of Flagler County this is your town not there’s !