Two years ago, when the 4-acre commercial parcel across from Bulldog Drive was still all woods and hopes, accusations were flying between Palm Coast and the county. The city was threatening to sue. The county commission took a vote that amounted to a “sue-us” dare.
The developer, who was hoping to turn the property into a shopping mall called Airport Commons, was getting fed up and thinking of dropping the whole project, according to the property owner–who at the time happened to be Jay Gardner, the county property appraiser and constitutional officer.
The acreage sits on county land, an appendage to the county airport that’s long been a county enclave in Palm Coast. But to be functional the shopping center needed utility services–water and sewer from Palm Coast. Palm Coast wasn’t keen on extending services without annexing the property, and at the time, annexation was off the table. The city also had issues about what the shopping center was going to look like and whether it would fit, architecturally, with municipal standards.
The rift turned into another King Kong v. Godzilla battle between then-City Manager Jim Landon and then County Administrator Craig Coffey.
Just months later, Landon had been fired, and his interim replacement, Beau Falgout, was already smoothing things over with the county as the two sides worked out an agreement that eliminated obstacles and cleared the way for construction of the 26,000-square-foot strip, which faces the new Wawa on the other side of State Road 100.
In May 2019, Airport Commons bought the property from Flagler Pines Properties (Gardner’s land-holding company), for $800,000. Ten months later, Gardner sold another 15 acres just south of Airport Commons to the county for just $250,000. Gardner still owns 39 acres east of Airport Commons, and another 30 acres east of that.
Airport Commons is owned by Martin Heise of Boca Raton, according to the state Department of Corporations. After taking ownership of the land, he moved for a voluntary annexation into Palm Coast.
“When we were coordinating the pre-annexation agreement with this specific owner,” said Jose Papa, a senior planner in Palm Coast’s community development department, “he’s very compliant on trying to comply with as many of our land development code regulations as possible. As a matter of fact, they went to the county to get a variance so they could comply with our standards.”
Last Tuesday, the Palm Coast City Council signed off on annexation with a unanimous vote.
“This is one example of us working thru complicated issues with our utility water service area,” Mayor Milissa Holland said, “because it wasn’t easy in the beginning.”
“It wasn’t, but at the end there was a lot of cooperation,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann said, “not just from the county but also from the project developer as well. So I think a lot of the issues were accomplished.”
Under state law, a property that depends on a municipality’s water and sewer service may be annexed into that municipality, even without its consent. In this case, the county originally argued that a water-service agreement in place supplanted the city’s annexation authority, and the agreement worked out initially would have provided for just such an arrangement. The annexation makes all that moot–and adds to Palm Coast’s property tax base.
Airport Commons remains under construction, though it’s close to being done. The parcel’s 2019 taxable value was $43,000. Its 2020 taxable value is $644,000, yielding close to $10,000 in total property tax revenue, half of it to the county. That’s before annexation. With annexation, Airport Commons will see an additional line item in its tax bill for Palm Coast, which next year will amount to just over $3,000.
“The annexation cannot come into effect until after they’ve received a certificate of occupancy for the building,” Papa said. “At this point their agents feel they’ll receive a CO at the end of this month, September.” So far, the only known, likely business to take up shop in the center is a Planet Fitness franchise.