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County Will take Back Control of All Plans and Construction for Captain’s at Bing’s in Major Concession to Hammock Group

| June 3, 2019

Captain's BBQ is proposing to build a new restaurant at Bing's filled-in peninsula, in the foreground, but a county commissioner is raising question about the soundness of the grounds and the 'broken' sea wall that protects them. Captain's is toward the left in the distance. (c FlaglerLive)

Captain’s BBQ is proposing to build a new restaurant at Bing’s filled-in peninsula, in the foreground, but a county commissioner is raising question about the soundness of the grounds and the ‘broken’ sea wall that protects them. Captain’s is toward the left in the distance. The plan the county approved today would build a new restaurant in place of the pavilion, if a new structure were deemed necessary, and move the pavilion to the foreground, on the peninsula.(c FlaglerLive)

The eight-month battle over the future of Bing’s Landing, the county park in the Hammock, appears to be over–if no litigation follows: in a major victory for Hammock residents who have fought any expansion of Captain’s BBQ at the park, the Flagler County Commission today voted to take over all construction responsibilities, including costs, for whatever building Captain’s BBQ is to occupy–whether it is to repair the current building or to build a new structure nearby.

Conceding to the Hammock Community Association on another demand, the county would not extend Captain’s lease past 2026, but essentially let the current lease move to its expiration date. In 2026, the county would then decide whether to draft a new lease or revert the building–whichever that building would be at that point–back to county uses.

In essence, commissioners’ unanimous vote was the adoption of much of the community association’s plan. The vote was a recognition of the political power of the Hammock, whose association members have been sustaining weekly protests since before the new year, raising money and wielding lawyers as assertively as Captain’s did. Just as clearly, the decision reflects a county commission now more assertive and intent on taking back the reins from its administration, rather than being led by options defined by the administration. That’s by design: Unlike his predecessor, Administrator Jerry Cameron has no interest in brokering big deals or playing kingmaker. He’s better known as a fixer.

County Commissioners were not eager to see Captain’s build its own building, as it had proposed since last year, nor were they willing to see a new county building match Captain’s current size, leaning more toward a smaller, 2,500 square foot building–should that building be necessary. That new building would be built in place of an existing pavilion near the Intracoastal, and the pavilion would move toward the peninsula on the Intracoastal.

Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien said he’d support building a 2,500 square feet where the pavillion is, and would have the county to build it. “I would support us taking back control of the entire situation,” continuing the current lease, satisfying it through 2026. Then, “we can decide whether we want to negotiate a new lease or revert it back to a community function.” He applauded Captain’s owners Mike Goodman and Chris Herrera for dealing “in good faith,” and for being “good citizens and good partners” in the community–two men whom he said should not be faulted for looking out for their interests, or for having worked with ex-Administrator Craig Coffey, who, O’Brien said–without mentioning his name–had his own ideas. It was a subtle way of blaming much of the controversial morass surrounding the Captain’s issue as Coffey fallout.

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, left, is willing to increase the property tax rate modestly. Don O'Brien is not. Both agree taxes are going up regardless. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, left, and Commission Chairman Don O’Brien. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioner Joe Mullins liked the idea of county control. “We build, and they pay, they pay for the rent. I don’t sense a problem with that,” he said. He motioned to have the county build the new building. Sullivan sought to change the motion: Captain’s would remain where the restaurant is at the moment, then have an “investigation” to determine if the building can’t be fixed for less than 50 percent of its value. If that’s not possible, only then the county would build a new building. Mullins liked that, and concurred.

Captain’s latest proposed lease was giving the restaurant three years to build a new building, were it done at Captain’s expense. That detail, Captain’s own, may come back to haunt the restaurant owners, as it now gives the county up to three years to figure out what to do with the existing building or line up dollars for a new building, should that prove necessary.

Today’s outcome, after nearly four hours of discussion, did not become clear until the very end of the discussion, when even Commissioner Greg Hansen seemed to be scratching his head: “We have an opportunity to do something here today, I’m not sure what that something is,” he said. But even as he spoke, he made clear that he was on the side of a smaller building and of county control.

In most regards, that’s not what Captain’s was hoping for.

A decision that reflects the commission taking back the reins from its administration.

According to the latest version of the proposed lease, which the county and Captain’s worked on through the weekend, Captain’s would have had up to three years to build the new restaurant itself, at its own expense. Rent would have remained at $1,000 a month for the first five years of occupancy, increasing only 3 percent a year starting with the sixth year and through 2041 (by which time it would still be under $2,000 a month), should Captain’s exercise its three five-year renewal options. The restaurant would have it written into the lease that it would not seek a liquor license. The building would be constructed on the so-called filled-in peninsula a few dozen feet to the southwest of the current building, closer to the Intracoastal.

The Hammock Community Association, whose supporters turned out by the score and wearing 50 shades of green, kept the focus on county control and the elimination of long-term subsidies or sweetheart deals for the restaurant, a private business. “Why would he want to take advantage of you any longer because you have been so generously gifting him with that low rent,” Carol Scott, an association member, told commissioners, saying Goodman won’t sue. “And I wonder how many times you’ve heard this fervent plea, please, let the lease run out and deal with this later. He’s not going to sue you. That’s greedy.”

But there’s not at all any certainty that there won’t be a lawsuit.

Jay Livingston, the attorney representing Captain’s, framed the restaurant’s approach in Captain’s willingness to hear community concerns and compromise along the way, back down to a 98-seat restaurant without a liquor license, built at its own expense. The threat of litigation has been bandied about by both sides. Livingston sought both to dispense with that and invite a lawsuit as a way for the county to clarify its own standing.

“At the end of the day once this building is built all of the concerns the county has and the responsibilities the county has with the current building go away. So in that light, we think it’s a really good deal for the county,” Livingston said. “If this is going to result in lawsuits, which has been made very clear by opposing counsel, then there is no better reason than for you to approve this lease because that way all of the issues can be put before the court including issues related to this lease, and the one that comes back to you, you will know where you stand on the law. So if there’s any reason that was given to approve this, it’s the threat of a lawsuit, because that way all of the issues will be before the court.”

At the top of the discussion, Commissioner Dave Sullivan announced his intention to make a motion supporting neither approach–not yet, anyway.

County Commissioner Joe Mullins. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Joe Mullins. (© FlaglerLive)

“The urgency here is, it’s been around for a long time, so personally I don’t feel like I have to absolutely make a decision today, because we’ve done that in the past under urgent conditions and made mistakes,” Sullivan said. He raised several fine-print issues, among them the near-future cost of replacing the park’s septic system whether or not a sewer line is extended now. He said Captain’s could buy a liquor license if it wants to, even if it has fewer than 150 seats. He found it contradictory that Captain’s owners would have up to three years to build a new restaurant when they are claiming that their existing structure is “falling apart,” in his words. And he raised questions about the physical soundness of the peninsula, where he said the sea wall is broken and the grounds themselves are sagging in the middle.

“I have a hard time approving anything until we’re sure that that peninsula is capable of supporting the building,” and until the sea wall is certified, Sullivan said. And he was displeased with the financial terms–rent that would subsidize the restaurant. “Essentially what Captain’s is doing is providing us high-cost financing to finance the building,” he said. He wanted the decision tabled for a year and the issues he raised better studied and addressed. “Eventually at this meeting I’ll make a motion along those lines.”

Commissioner Mullins reflected the weariness of colleagues when he said he’d “love to not even be making that decision.” But, he said, “both parties have come to the table and made some concessions and I think it’s time to move forward and make a decision in this lifetime.”

Attorneys Dennis Bayer and Jane West spoke as counsel for the Hammock Community Association, with Bayer prefacing his remarks by noting what he saw as the irregularities of the hearing: there was no county staff report, no county administration recommendation. “For the record we object on the grounds of due process,” Bayer said before delving into the history Captain’s lease and Bing’s own history as a product of the county’s tax-supported Environmentally Sensitive Lands program. He summarized the association’s proposal, placing the seat capacity at 100, as opposed to 80.

County Administrator Jerry cameron defended not having a staff report. “This has been reported many, many times, it’s time for any decision, and we won’t have a recommendation,” he told commissioners. “We will answer your questions, we will tell you what is feasible and what is not feasible. But there is no staff report because there will be no staff recommendation.”

Dozens of people spoke, somewhat evenly divided between supporters of Captain’s, particularly personalized support for Captain’s owners, who’ve made their mark as local business owners and in support of various causes–some of their supporters today were men and women whose own causes Herrera had lent his support to–though many of the arguments presented were repeats of arguments for and against the plans that have been presented over successive meetings since last fall.

“One thing I know is that Captain’s works. It’s clear. It’s been working,” Matt Hathaway said, citing its top rating on several online ranking sites. “For my demographic, we like to see that type of progress, we want to see things that work, we want to see things that bring positive and progressive approach to our county.”

Betty Ledyard, another Captain’s supporter, was referring to Herrera when she said, “I know you are aware of his fever to preserving this beautiful land, he is a local man and he absolutely can be trusted. I know we can all take his promises to heart. And he will rebuild Captain’s and still maintain the old Florida feel of it.”

Others sided with Sullivan’s caution or the Hammock’s plan.

There was no applause after the county’s vote: it was a reflection of the general weariness that’s attended the last few months of the controversy, and perhaps a sense that today’s vote was not a victory, exactly, but a concession, its details yet to be worked out, and its legal future still in doubt.

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19 Responses for “County Will take Back Control of All Plans and Construction for Captain’s at Bing’s in Major Concession to Hammock Group”

  1. Ben Hogarth says:

    I truly feel bad for both County and Captains BBQ – who have been largely made the villain here. A reminder that every business would sign up for the opportunity Goodman / Captains was given by the last administration.

    The difference is that in most places, where the law is known, understood, and followed – no business would be granted such a “sweet deal.” The Florida Constitution prohibits it, and public perception should be a (not so) slight hint as to why. Goodman was acting in what he thought was “good faith” while the last county administrator failed to do his duty in following the law. It isn’t Goodman’s responsibility to protect the taxpayers interests – it was Coffey’s and his team. He failed to do so. That’s the lesson.

    I strongly urge staff and commissioners to consider these laws in any future lease terms. The taxpayers need “fair-market” value for their tax-leveraged assets, such as property and infrastructure. In the case of the existing or any new structure(s) in Bings – any future tenant needs to pay a “fair market value” for the use. Additionally, the terms of use need to always consider the public needs in the park as paramount to any private, business needs. The Florida Supreme Court has upheld that any private use of public lands must be to a primary public benefit. In other words, any rental terms that are below what is “fair market value” is by all legal standards, de facto subsidized and will not survive legal challenge.

    The existing and historic lease terms are 100% unlawful, but if the arrangement is settled by both parties amicably, I see no reason why a future lease couldn’t rectify this issue after 2026 and with county control of the property and infrastructure. I’m glad that Commissioners are willing to move forward and right the very many wrongs that have plagued Flagler County… but I also strongly caution them in future lease agreements.

    Do not make the same mistake twice. The last administration has already nearly cost the county millions of dollars (possibly tens of millions) due to the Sheriffs Ops Center disaster, Sears Building, and Plantation Bay corrupt purchases (among others). Be sure that the next lease at Bings and approved uses by any private party live up to the Constitutional standard. This is absolutely critical.

    And Commissioner Sullivan’s points about the sea wall and septic considerations must be considered moving forward in planning. Just my two cents after providing commentary for many months on these isssues.


  2. Doug says:

    Nice to see the County Commission didn’t leave there private parts at home for the vote.

  3. Robin Kent-Gardner says:

    Inspect the current building, repair it if needed or tear it down and let Captain’s BBQ move elsewhere. What’s so difficult about that? Captain’s has been getting a sweetheart deal for years. The gravy train is over. The land belongs to the public and it was never intended to be used for a private for-profit business.

  4. marlee says:

    THANK YOU Flagler County Commissioners!

  5. Dennis McDonald says:

    Look at the county appraisers website and you will see that the building in “failure” is the original 25×52 single story built on a crawl space. This amounts to is the equivalent of a Double Wide ! This is the simplest type living structure in the US. and the County can not fix it ? Another excellent example of why Craig Coffey is gone.

    Craig Coffey could not figure out how to fix a sagging floor in a DOUBLE WIDE, or could he ?

  6. Flatsflyer says:

    The FCSO is crying about their landlord charging $10,000. a month for office space in the Market Place complex, yet we have FBCC trying to get $1,000. a month from a for profit business. Something here stinks to high heaven. You can’t rent any store front in PC for less than $15. per square foot, triple net. So a 2,500 facility with unlimited parking plus dock space and waterfront views should demand at least $25,000. per month income to the county.

    I think their needs to be an investigation to determine if there are any kickbacks, or financial incentives involving any county official as it relates to any all real estate, purchases, rents, leases currently and over the last 5 years.

  7. Really says:

    Spending way too much time on a BBQ jt. On Cty proprty. Move on already solve it. Shut it down WHATEVER

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Finally this county commission put this train wreck back in its tracks!

  9. Agkistrodon says:

    OH well that is SOOOOOO reassuring. Wasn’t the COUNTY in charge of the FCSO fiasco, and the SEARS bldg FIASCO, and the Gold Course FIASCO-maybe that is PC, seems like neither could hit their rear effectively with a tennis racket…………..Yeah that helps IMMENSELY………

  10. Dianna says:

    I would like to thank the Commissioners and the County Administrator for their decision to, as Mr. Cameron said, “. . . if at all possible, we will make the building live out the lease.”

    I am positive that building can and will last until the lease runs out.

  11. Shark says:

    All of this for a poor quality BBQ !!!!

  12. Flyinbird says:

    Please let’s not praise this commission they voted back in Nov to approve this deal with Coffey Hanson Sullivan mcloughlin. This was before mullin was sworn in and Erickson was out cruising. O’Brien did not support the vote . After they passed it l went to Sullivan and asked him if he had read the previous leases and he said NO . I offered him the copies I had and he refused to take them ???i. Ignorance is bliss . God protect our county from bankruptcy…..

  13. Hammock Resident says:

    Commissioner David Sullivan, DID HIS HOMEWORK, came up with a conclusion the tax payers of Flagler County could support, and rose to the the occasion by making a motion to review whether or not the building could be repaired, and if not, the County build an appropriate building they can have control of. He questioned that if the building was good enough for Captain’s to use for the lengthy construction period, why could it not be repaired and used for the term of the existing lease. Thank you Commissioner Sullivan for leading the way on this one. Hopefully the rest of the Commissioners can take a lesson from him.

  14. Dave says:

    So we cant afford a place for the Sheriff but these clowns get sweetheart deal!? What the heck is going on in Flagler County!?? We need an outside investigation asap!

  15. Lin says:

    The County Attorney and Commission should never have given that sweetheart lease to Captains.

    Glad the decision went this way but still too little, too late. And I agree with Dennis, the shack can be fixed even if work might be more than minor. The park belongs to all of us. I suggest watching Hgtv and DIY for ideas LOL.

  16. Its about time says:

    Poor decisions in the first place by BOCC members is what got us where we are today. We all know this Captains BarBQ was rented at far below of what rental space is going for and this was a sweet heart deal. Now, Flaglerlive, dig in and find out what the strings were that made this deal what it is. Someone benefitted and we want to know who. We do know it was Nate McLaughlin’s family member that had an event there…..was that bargain priced for the McLaughlin’s too? Why couldn’t the BOCC see for years that Coffey was bad news and needed to go years ago before he costs us tax payers millions and millions of dollars in loses? We need to enjoy Bings for what it is, and this restaurant needs to go and find commercial space to rent or build their own establishment. The picnic area needs to remain because we who do use it enjoy the view and being close to the water and the park was purchased for our enjoyment, not someone to profit. It is about time the BOCC stood on their hind legs and made some positive impact. Hopefully, the same decision will stand when the lease is up and we will not be building on this property and allowing any other businesses to operate here!!!! What the hell is the county attorney doing that a half a million dollars of our tax money is being thrown at each year?????????

  17. Optimist says:

    It’s mind blowing how or that this ever even became a subject of county business. This was county and tax payer property from day one. I think of all the restauranteurs Like Johnny at Jt’s Seafood Shack right down the street, who put MILLIONS into their own business and growth, while “Captains” just leased a building (a bait shop, as intended) for nothing (for years) and didn’t have their own independent plan for expansion!! Hmm. It’s almost like those that vote against “gimmies and gravy trains” are indeed guilty themselves of needing literal “handouts.” NOT TODAY.

  18. Percy's mother says:

    Captain’s has used up all it’s goodwill in this community.

    So what happens if their business goes under due to lack of patronage?. . . since goodwill has gone out the window.

    Will Captain’s be held to the lease if they now go under? What would be the ramifications if the business goes under between now and 2026? Perhaps the commissioners should be looking a bit further ahead than just the next commission meeting.

  19. Sean peckham says:

    This is for the public it is a reality check the hammock association You obviously don’t get it! You as the public are not in charge ! The bocc will do what ever they want too much money too many lawyers too much corruption the favoritism goes too deep ! Wake up do something about it get together rally go to your county commissioner meeting demand that the state does investigations against the people who are employed there this will solve all your issues again just saying !

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