Last Updated: 1:54 p.m.
The Captain’s BBQ building at Bing’s Landing is nowhere near the poor conditions its owners or the former county administrator alleged it to be after all–at least not according to the latest, more probing inspection by county staff. (See the summary inspection report below. See the “structural assessment” of the building, with numerous pictures of the inspection, here.)
A “destructive” inspection that removed walls and examined the building’s foundations discovered that the structure is essentially sound, and that it can be repaired for a mere $60,000, or considerably less than half the building’s current $175,000 value. That makes building a new structure for Captain’s unnecessary, and would nullify the debates of the last months. The $175,000 value is based on a June 10 appraisal.
“It’s a dramatic turnaround,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said this morning. “The fix will be much easier than we anticipated before.”
Yet for almost a year, the county administration and county commissioners operated on ostensibly false assumptions resulting from a previous, superficial inspection. The administration wrote a new lease for Captain’s assuming it needed a new building. The commission hurriedly approved that lease, before rescinding it, and eventually provoked a lawsuit by Captain’s that’s not about to go away just because new facts are emerging.
Cameron informed county commissioners of the new inspection’s findings in a memo Thursday. The inspection was conducted by Mark Boice, the county’s chief building inspector. “The County’s building official preformed an invasive (destructive) inspection of the exterior support walls,” he wrote. “This is an area that could not be observed in previous inspections. The result was that these structures had not suffered the deterioration observed in the floor support systems and, in fact, in most areas they remained in near new condition. Previous assumptions were that the building had probably deteriorated uniformly thus necessitating demolition due to cost vs. value calculations.” He added: “This process revealed the reliability of destructive vs. non-destructive inspections.”
The building’s repairs would take four weeks–or at least require Captain’s operations to be interrupted for four weeks, Cameron said. He said bringing in food trucks or similar means to enable Captain’s to continue operating on site, at the county’s expense, could be one of the options.
“I think I should get a little credit,” County Commissioner Dave Sullivan said today. It was his motion on June 3 that, in part, and in his word, called for “an investigation done to see if, for 50 percent of the current building value, it could be brought up to standards where it could last for the end of the lease.”
“We wouldn’t even have done another inspection if I didn’t make the motion the way I did,” Sullivan said. “I was the one that put my ass on the line on that. I know Joe [Mullins] talks a lot but he was going to make a motion to approve the new building–that I stopped.” (See Sullivan’s full motion.)
According to the lawsuit filed against the county by Captain’s last week, the assumptions that the building had to be replaced was based on observations by then-County Administrator Craig Coffey, Facilities Director Heidi Petito and her lieutenant, Mike Dickson, going back to early 2018. Coffey was forced to resign in January. Petito and Dickson were again involved in the work that led to Thursday’s findings, however.
Those findings don’t nullify the lawsuit, in which Captain’s argues that the county commission passed a lease amendment in November 2018 allowing Captain’s to build a new, 5,000 square-foot structure at Bing’s. The county rescinded that lease two weeks later–an action the restaurant says was illegal. Earlier this month, the county voted to end any involvement of Captain’s in moving the building, or in financing its construction, if that became necessary. The commission had also directed Cameron to establish more certainly whether the existing building was in as bad a shape as Coffey and Captain’s owners had claimed.
“I was not aware of the inspection or that walls were removed,” Jay Livingston, one of Captain’s attorneys, said this morning. “It’s also concerning that the same people that have claimed that it was not salvageable are now saying that it is, for a significantly less amount.” He said Boice had been involved “at least in some of the analysis of the original reviews of it.” Further, when Livingston discussed the Hammock Community Association’s demand for a deeper inspection with Cameron, “the current administrator said he didn’t think it was necessary because he had visually inspected it himself.”
“This changing course is very concerning and upsetting to me and I’m sure my clients would agree,” Livingston said. “There was some pretty conclusive information given to us on the issue, that was the reason why my clients went to the lengths that they went to find a solution. In the background during the last year, a lot of work, effort, consultants and money was spent in reliance of what the county told us.”
In other words, what amounts, potentially, to a year’s worth of false assumptions was costly in money, time and planning for the business. If the building was repairable, Livingston said, “not only would we have never proposed to build a new building but none of this controversy would have ever happend, so it’s very unfortunate to be hearing this.”
He also questioned the extent of the inspection and how the county could so quickly conclude what it would cost to repair the building, especially when, only recently, Livingston and Al Hadeed, the county attorney, were working on lease terms that would also take into account what to do should the building fail before a new building could be replaced. “Even at that point they were concerned about the building failing, before we could get a new building constructed. And now it can be built for $60,000,” Livingston said. He questioned whether an inspection would be thorough enough without shutting the whole building down to conduct it–and that, he said, did not happen. “It would be interesting to know what they did to know that conclusion, and how quickly they came up with a fixed number. Where did that come from? If the inspection happened this week, that’s a pretty quick estimate to get an estimate for a building that was unsalvageable only a month ago.”
Livingston did not address the inspection’s findings’ effects on the lawsuit Captain’s just filed, saying it was too early in the process, and he was not the lead attorney on that lawsuit.
The lawsuit may have been an attempt to sway the county into a settlement more favorable to Captain’s. The latest inspection’s findings could buttress the county’s position.
“I don’t know if this would be considered weapons or not,” Cameron said. “The commission has taken the position all along that they rescinded the other lease and that the 2016 lease is governing. A lot of the decisions that were being made were based on the fact that we could not repair that building for less than 50 percent of its value. Those were all things that you could determine by looking at them but not scientifically, until we got an actual appraisal, and until we tore into walls, you couldn’t definitely say how much repairs were going to cost. But once the commission instructed me to tell them how long that building could last, the only way to do that was to do destructive testing, and the destructive testing, or inspection, canceled out a lot of the assumptions that we had.”
In a text in early afternoon, after speaking with his clients at the restaurant, Livingston said the county never told the co-owners–Mike Goodman or Chris Herrera–that an inspection was taking place, nor were either present at the time of the inspection–an unusual way for a landlord to work on a tenant’s building.
“From what we can tell they removed a 3×3 foot portion of the wall in the kitchen and molding in the front room,” Livingston said. “No indication they inspected crawl spaces or roof. When Mr. Cameron came on board with the County it was Mark Boyce who handled the prior inspection that was used to conclude the building was not worth repairing. According to what we have been told in the past a $60,000 repair bill will exceed the 50% threshold that will require the facility to be brought up to code. I would assume that would include, among other things, making sure the finished floor elevation is above grade.”
The Hammock Community Association since December has been fighting the county’s and Captain’s plans to move the building or expand it, demonstrating weekly outside Bing’s and filling commission chambers with its supporters every time Captain’s was on the commission agenda. Early this morning, the association circulated an email to its members with the subject line: “Are you kidding?”
“After seeing the results and pictures of hell this building is in excellent condition I will not support building a new building,” County Commissioner Joe Mullins said in a written statement late Thursday. “I also had similar questions and concerns that I’m sure you guys do right now how did this building fell inspection earlier and become a condemned building and the same people inspected it and found it was in excellent shape. This has a lot of similarities to the sheriffs office and the inspections that were done they are from my understanding management told them not to go deep into the buildings and also suggested what they would like them to find. They were simply creating the outcome that they wanted in both situations and deceiving the public to basically pull off an agenda that they had for personal benefit. We will not build a new building and I am going to ask the county attorney to do a thorough investigation into the commissioners and inspection process also to fight and hold our ground that that building will only be repaired.”
Cameron cautioned that the latest inspection may not be all-revealing. “We must be careful not to guarantee that the building will meet expectations,” he said in a release issued this morning. “Although the areas we inspected are very encouraging, there may be issues in other areas not uncovered.”
[This is a developing story. More soon.]