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Town Simmer: City Retreats From Four-Laning Bulldog Drive or Condemning Ajram Property

| September 27, 2011

Bulldog Drive will be prettied up, but not widened much. A portion of Gus Ajram's property is to the right.
(© FlaglerLive)

For the past year, Palm Coast has been threatening to condemn portions of two automotive-business properties along Bulldog Drive that belong to Gus Ajram, preventing him from doing much of anything with the properties. The city last summer paid off two of Ajram’s tenants to leave the properties. And for years before that, the city denied Ajram an occupational license that would have allowed him to open a dealership there, because Palm Coast wanted Bulldog Drive to be a grand, beautified four-lane entrance to Town Center. It didn’t want automotive businesses along the way.

The city could have bought Ajrma’s properties, as it did every other property along Bulldog Drive, but it didn’t want to pay Ajram’s $1.125 million. The city’s highest offer was $935,000, which Ajram might have accepted if his legal fees, which have mounted, were added to the sum. The city refused. Yet when the city’s own fees incurred to battle Ajram, to design Bulldog Drive around his property and to pay off his tenants are included, the sum is equal or greater than the difference between what Palm Coast was offering and what Ajram was asking for.

After all that, Palm Coast is now saying: never mind.

In an astounding turn-around that nullifies years of claims by the city that Bulldog Drive had to be four-laned, properties along Bulldog Drive acquired at taxpayers’ expense, as they were—or condemned at taxpayers’ expense—and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent either in legal fees or in design fees for the planned four-laning, the city is literally re-routing the project. It is also conceding that there is neither enough money nor enough traffic to warrant the four-laning.

Further, there isn’t enough money to buy Ajram’s property even if the two sides agreed to less than $1 million as a settlement.

The money would have to come out of the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency budget. It’s tax dollars, but its separate from the city’s general fund. The dollars are generated from within the Town Center CRA. Because of the crash, the CRA is generating nowhere near what it was projected to generate by this time.

Gus Ajram (© FlaglerLive)

Bulldog Drive was a $5.15 million project over two years—2012 and 2013. The amount budgeted for 2012: $1.5 million. Another $750,000 is budgeted for another project in the CRA, for a total budget of $2.25 million in 2012. The CRA also has steep debt servicing–$641,000 in 2012 alone, and operating expenses of $100,000, for a total expected spending in 2012 of close to $3 million. The CRA’s projected revenue in 2012: $3 million, including more than half in carry-over from the previous year. Nowhere in Palm Coast’s budget, prepared this summer, was a line-item for land acquisition.

Those are the figures the council is approving in today’s final budget hearing. None of the revamped Bulldog Drive project was discussed during budget discussions a few weeks ago. City Manager Jim Landon did not explain how and whether those figures would change when he proposed the revamp of the Bulldog Drive project at a city council workshop this morning.

Landon recommended that the city council drop its condemnation authorization, which the city approved exactly a year ago but never acted on—essentially turning the threat of condemnation into a freeze on Ajram’s ability to profit from his property, at his expense. The city will “beautify” Bulldog Lane, but only as a two-lane entrance for now, leaving to uncertain future date the possibility of four-laning. Part of the two-laning includes re-locating Flagler Palm Coast High School’s bus parking from the area fronting Bulldog Drive, on the east side of campus, to the area on the west side of the campus, near the tennis courts. (See the illustration to the right.)

“The two-lanes, we avoid his property at this time,” Landon says of Ajram’s land. “If in the future we need the right of way, we’ll have to start all over again, but that future is years out, obviously.” Landon.

The threat still looms over Ajram and his property, diminishing his or his potential for long-term tenants to operate with the assurance that they can stay there without another series of roadblocks. (Those roadblocks may continue anyway: the city is requiring Ajram to install a fire hydrant at his expense, even though the hydrant will also benefit the school across the road.) The council was receptive to Landon’s proposal, and would formalize the new plan by repealing the year-old condemnation resolution at its next meeting.


Condemnation would have been extremely expensive. The city was required to follow several steps including formal negotiations or mediation to avoid going to court before a jury. The city never started the process, forcing Ajram’s attorney earlier this month to threaten the council, in turn: either act on condemnation or repeal the measure and let him go about his business. Ajram was threatening so-called reverse-condemnation proceedings, which would have forced the city to go through with condemnation. That appeared to force Landon’s hand—and retreat today, though it’s not at all clear that Ajram will have free use of his property: the city still holds numerous tools in its zoning and planning arsenal to make life difficult for him.

City Council member Bill Lewis asked Landon about the letter from Ajram’s attorney at today’s meeting. Landon said the letter shouldn’t be discussed, terming it “legal maneuvering.”

For Ajram, the past year’s maneuvers on the city’s part are merely the latest of serial roadblocks. He has owned the properties since 1996. He’s been looking to open a car dealership there since. The city spent most of the years since denying him the license. It doesn’t want automotive businesses there because it would clash with the city’s vision of another grand entrance to Town Center. The city then attempted to move Ajram out, but not at his price. He offered to move his property a few feet, on city-owned land, to enable the city’s plans on Bulldog Drive. The city refused.

The city started buying the many parcels along Bulldog Drive for up to four times the property appraiser’s just market value, as was the case with the property to the north of Ajram’s (the city paid $800,000 for that one). But Palm Coast claimed Ajram’s two parcels weren’t worth what he was asking for.

An element of underhandedness has long attached to the city’s dealings with Ajram, who’s claimed for a long time that bigotry has played a role in his treatment: though a naturalized citizen, he’s of Lebanese birth and speaks the immigrant’s slightly broken English with a heavy accent. The underhandedness was most apparent last summer. Ajram had two tenants in his two buildings on Bulldog Drive—GW Black Inc. and I&R Enterprises. They were renters. Yet the city went to them and offered them a pay-off to leave the property: $39,150 to one, and $20,200 to the other, or $59,350. The city, going behind Ajram’s back, offered the money to the renters to move elsewhere. The renters first stopped paying rent to Ajram, who initiated eviction proceedings, then moved. The buildings were vacant for most of the subsequent year before Bulldog Automotive moved in. Ajram himself has been operating from a location on U.S. 1 in Bunnell, pending the resolution of the matter on Bulldog Drive.

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32 Responses for “Town Simmer: City Retreats From Four-Laning Bulldog Drive or Condemning Ajram Property”

  1. wsh302@msn.com says:

    now i ask you do we trust our government after reading this?

  2. palmcoaster says:

    What a waste of tax payers monies to benefit the Town Center Developer!! How many miles of sidewalks to keep our kids safe, all these wasted funds would have pay for? Then there is no money for the bicycle/walkways path or lighting Seminole Parkway! Now to my astonishing I see a west and east sidewalks bike paths in Belle Terre that end where else…. in “Town Center”. Meanwhile in Seminole and other heavily traffic roads are none. Don’t the city officials feel bad about it?

  3. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Ajram ought to sue the city anyway, this is ridiculous. And even if they aren’t currently moving forward, it would appear the City has already constructively taken the land by making it next to impossible for him to operate on it and interfering in his private contracts with his tenants.

  4. some guy says:

    yes a BIG waist of OUR $$$ BUT what about the poor guy who “lost” his tenents was denied to use HIS land for a business he wanted to open. Not to mention his cost on fighting this crap from the government. what the hell is wrong with our City Government???

  5. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    And guess, just who has paid for all the legal fees, to push the foolish agenda of the City? Yes, we the tax payers. Mr. Ajram had to pay the legal fees out of his pocket, and yet the city has a big pocket called, taxes to pay for it’s mistakes. The City has paid over $4 million to the property owners along Bulldog drive, including $1.15 million to Sonic fast food NOT to build on the NE corner of SR100 and Bulldog. Sonic had paid $605,000 back in 2007 to acquire the property. Not bad during a time, that property values were dropping. What was also said, during the meeting, was that Mr. Ajram, was the one causing all the delay. The City has also decided to remedy the water problems in the area, by building a pump station on the West side of the school property and enlarging the pond, to the East of Bulldog. Apparently, they just discovered that all the retention ponds are linked together, and causing flooding in the school property. Maybe now, that we are performing the services, we will annex, the school property. They have been working on this for the past few months. The City has also redesigned the new pickup point for students, as the buses, will no longer load at the East end of the school, under weather proof cover. This pickup point is in the North parking lot, possibly reducing the number of vehicle parking places. Will this result in another roofed building to keep students dry during rain storms, ? I’m trying now to find, the $69,000 of pay off money in the budget..What do you think? Postage?

  6. Jim Guines says:

    I feel awful for Gus . He is a great human being and I hope somehow he is made whole for all of the trouble he has been taken through with the city.

  7. Michelle says:

    I wonder if, since it seems that he does not have ‘use’ of his property at this time, he must pay property taxes?

  8. PalmCoastPioneers says:

    Question for Mr. Ericksen:

    Do you know if the ‘…57 acres…’ referenced below of Palm Coast Community Lands of donated land are intact?

    ********************************************************************
    ‘…We have donated two acres of land, adjoining the furture Emergency Services Building site, to the Palm Coast branch of the YMCA to be used as the location fo a Community Activities Center. We will bear the cost of constructing this facility for all community residents and for sharing in operational expenses during its first three years — a gift totalling more than $400,000.
    ——–>We have provided as a gift a site of 57 acres to the Flagler County School Board for a junior-senior high school. The first class of proud seniors was graduated from Flagler-Palm Coast High School last spring. One of the main reasons damage did not occur is because Palm Coast has been designed to withstand, what is termed, “the 100-year flood.” That, says Richard Vaughan, director of environmental affairs for ITT Community Development Corporation, means a flood that statistically could occur once in a hundred years could hit Palm Coast and no flood water would enter the houses. <————-

    …Palm Coast has been designed to withstand what is termed 'the 100 year Flood'.

    From: Richard Vaughan, director of environmental affairs for the ITT Community Development Corporation
    The PalmCoaster, Volume 11, Number 1, Winter/Spring, 1982, Front Cover Page, p 1, p.13.

  9. PalmCoastPioneers says:

    Questions for Mr. Ericksen:
    ( sorry the cut , paste, copy features was not effective above so here is the corrected questions – Thank you )
    Question for Mr. Ericksen:

    Do you know if the ‘…57 acres…’ referenced below of Palm Coast Community Lands of donated land are intact?

    ********************************************************************
    ‘…We have donated two acres of land, adjoining the furture Emergency Services Building site, to the Palm Coast branch of the YMCA to be used as the location fo a Community Activities Center. We will bear the cost of constructing this facility for all community residents and for sharing in operational expenses during its first three years — a gift totalling more than $400,000.
    ——–>We have provided as a gift a site of 57 acres to the Flagler County School Board for a junior-senior high school. The first class of proud seniors was graduated from Flagler-Palm Coast High School last spring. One of the main reasons damage did not occur is because Palm Coast has been designed to withstand, what is termed, “the 100-year flood.” That, says Richard Vaughan, director of environmental affairs for ITT Community Development Corporation, means a flood that statistically could occur once in a hundred years could hit Palm Coast and no flood water would enter the houses. <————-

    …Palm Coast has been designed to withstand what is termed 'the 100 year Flood'.

    From: Richard Vaughan, director of environmental affairs for the ITT Community Development Corporation
    The PalmCoaster, Volume 11, Number 1, Winter/Spring, 1982, Front Cover Page, p 1, p.13.

  10. jake- says:

    why would they make the stupid road bigger?or nicer looking? its a ROAD! who care cares what it looks like? they should stop making the town look better and put in some damn sidewalks!

  11. Dudley Doright says:

    Another grand plan by our City Council under the control of puppet master Jim Landon. This nonsense has been going on for the past few years and many $$$$ spent and lost. Just goes to show the complacency of our citizens. Gus has been put through the ringer and spit out. I hope he takes the city for everything he can get!

  12. Anonymous says:

    These city Officials will never learn. Their either living in a fantasy land or the Twighlight Zone.

  13. Sam says:

    Anyone who knows the Ajram family should be disgusted at the blatant racism the City of Palm Coast has been allowed to get away with. If Gus were an African American the NAACP would have stepped in years ago and settled this. To think that as Americans we allow racism because someone is of Arab decent makes me sick. Gus is a hard working honest American Citizen and no citizen of this country deserves to be treated this way.

  14. Jojo says:

    What a disgrace. The City of Palm Coast wants to nickel and dime us all. My water bill is now more than my FPL bill? I think the powers that be need to be investigated.

    http://www.news-journalonline.com/breakingnews/2011/09/flagler-residents-to-be-billed-for-fire-equipment-surcharge.html

  15. Christie 2012 says:

    Great Job City of Palm Coast!!!! Just keep electing these same officials who piss away your money. But don’t blame them, you put them there! $1.15 million to keep a business out and yet the same people can’t understand why they have the highest unemployment rate in the state.What a joke

  16. palmcoaster says:

    Thank you Pioneer. One more reason to show us all what some of these local developers manage to gain from elected officials after they lobby them. Do we still want to elect to the council Mr. DeLorenzo that represents all these developers interest?
    I still think an outside Florida law legal team should be consulted regarding all the amenities striped from Palm Coasters that include the pathetic abandoned Matanzas Golf course, the 5 million plus tax payers funds that were used to repair the damage done to our “recovered after a harsh battle” by Centex.
    Our ocean front pool, cabanas and facilities along with the abandoned and pathetic eyesore now, tennis courts in Palm Harbor Parkway all under the amenity name of the “Players Club”. Then for an affordable membership we and guess had access to that gorgeous ocean front pool and facility as well as to the bandoned now, pool within the Palm Harbor Pkwy.. Also Palm Coast Marina still very profitable that should be “given back to us” as all were grand father amenities provided by ITT to Palm Coaster for over 20 years. Palm Coaster could lauch their boats for free within the heart of the city. No more. Only the elite use it now.
    One good law firm to be contacted that is very successful in Florida’s residents law suits against abuse is: http://www.childresslawyers.com/ And do it before the estatute of limitation expires ….soon. Lets all ask for a class action suit over the loss of these amenities on a contingency basis. Lets keep in minds that the loss of our ocean front pool, cabanas and community gathering facilities on the beach, was due to county commissioners deeding 16 blocks of ocean front to Ginn in exchange for 300 hundred acres of swamps and a $20,000 check.. We the little guys not even incorporated yet as City of Palm Coast, could not fight it then. How much more do we have to endure, before we fight back?

  17. palmcoaster says:

    Sorry I missed to say above that “after a harsh battle of the residents affected around the Palm Harbor Golf course” we got it back and is ours now. Not after we had to spend 5 million of tax payers monies to repair the damage done by Centex”s neglect that fairness tells me, we shoul be refunded as well.
    Lets get together and consult an outside Florida Law firm before too late.

  18. palmcoaster says:

    They surcharge our utility bill but they give away $74,000 plus $17,000 and God knows how much in connection fees and basic infraestructure fees to ” Contemporary Machinery: manufacturing of raildroad equipment in Roberts Road located right south of the Sea Ray Plant. That was the last punch of Greg Rawls past Enterprise rocket scientist to Palm Coaster’s. Manufacturer-chugs-aheadl these exemptions and tax payers monies for, here we go again, “the promise of 20 more jobs within 3 years” Does it sound familiar something like PCD …?
    http://www.palmcoastobserver.com/news/palm-coast/Front-Page/01132011294/Manufacturer-chugs-ahead.
    https://flaglerlive.com/wp-content/uploads/contemporary-machinery-agreement.pdf

    Then of course, they vote to raise our fees. We are already paying forever the basic rate that covers the utilities infraestructure and evry penny extra they make they use it to benefit the corporate elite. Like the 4 lane of Old Kings Road over 6 million of the PC Utility for a failed WalMart promise that now is costly to maintain.

  19. Robert says:

    This debacle is latest example of the inept, bungling management of this city. It seems that the more foolhardy the scheme that these town councilors endorse, the easier it is for them to get re elected. Everyone of them jumped on this Titanic of an idea and endorsed it without reservation. And don’t count Mary DiStefano’s statements because she was way off base. When I contacted her I asked her to justified the expense she asserted that the town did not over pay for the property. FlaglerLive reported a similar statement on September 21, 2011. https://flaglerlive.com/11288/bulldog-drive-palm-coast-cra

    What will be the next disappointment? The trash hauling contract that is being put out to “bid”?

    Out to bid, that is a laugh. Hauling trash is hauling trash. The town council via the town manager is going to get the company they wish to have and it will have nothing to do with the lowest rate. I say the town council via the town manager because if you have been reading FlaglerLive you will recall da mayor for life saying the town manager does what the town council directs him to do.

    So the town manager will be the point man and redirect this so called open bidding back to the company that will pay the largest fee to the city. There will be all types of justifications given from people losing jobs, to poor service, equipment and whatever.

    I could be wrong but past performance is a very good indicator of future behavior. And the past performance or lack of by this town council speaks volumes.

  20. Barney Fyfe says:

    This is exactly why people are begging for smaller government. This bloated out of control government has time to drag things on and scheme ways to defraud hard working, tax paying, citizens/employers. Their holier than thou, sanctimonious, condescension is vulgar. They need to be spanked.

    It seems to me the State Attorney General should look into the behavior of this City Council. This doesn’t take an attorney. Everyone in Palm Coast should start a letter writing campaign to the State Attorney General Pam Bondi. You can send your letter to:

    Office of Attorney General
    State of Florida
    The Capitol PL-01
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050

    or email: http://myfloridalegal.com/contact.nsf/contact?Open&Section=Attorney_General

    This city council is composed of nothing more than pusillanimous pipsqueaks. They are thugs and they need to be investigated.

  21. Bob E. says:

    Barney Fyfe,
    Are you sure it is the politicians that need to be investigated. Was it them or Mr. Landon who decided, as he does on so many things without council guidance, to pursue the “beautification” project and then to what appears to be negotiating in bad faith with this property owner. You dont have to go the the Atty Gen’l for corrective action to be taken. Am I wrong?

  22. Barney Fyfe says:

    Because Mr. Landon is an appointment by politicians and the politicians and the politicians are condoning his actions and policies. If they didn’t, they would have fired him. The people at the top are accountable and need to be investigated.

  23. Barney Fyfe says:

    And… this is from the PalmCoast.gov website that describes the City Manager responsibilities…

    The Mayor and City Council members act as the political head of the city. They are responsible for setting policy, approving the budget, determining the tax rate, and formulating broad long-term policies that outline the City’s public function. The manager is appointed by council to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is being served. The manager makes policy recommendations to the council, but the council may or may not adopt them and may modify the recommendations. The manager is bound by whatever action the council takes.

    As I said, the Palm Coast elected officials need to be investigated.

  24. palm coaster says:

    I sure agree with Barney. Since 1991 that I reside in Palm Coast never heard before that the parking lot of the Flagler Palm Coast High School got ever flooded. Now I just learned for the first time the after the Town Center Development is does now and we have to fix it. What were these city officials thinking about when they approved that back fill for Tow Center? Don’t we have a city Engineering Department, that we pay for?
    They allow developers to build on higher ground without total disregard for existing structures wether public or private. Wonder how come this issue was not made public during the campaign and before the election of mayor Netts. Now we will have to be watch dogs to make sure they use CRA funds for this repair and which will actually delay the refund of our 5 million at least, lent to that CRA. Just open public elected officials corruption in favor of a developer.
    http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/flagler/2011/09/29/palm-coast-plans-to-fix-stormwater-traffic-problems-at-flagler-palm-coast-high-school.html

    Now we will have double hit from school taxes in the future, as our schools have many less students and the empty classrooms are to be maintained anyway with A/C (so no black mold set in), Pest control etc. while they bring in no revenue. Reason kids being moved to charters and residents moving away searching for jobs. But on this pathetic economy charters show up for Board approval including one now for Russian language..! God forbid would be for Spanish language. I thought my school taxes were not to support foreign language or heritage education. Didn’t I read ostentatious legislation against that (Spanish language or heritage) somewhere including in AZ?
    http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/east-volusia/2011/09/29/flagler-and-volusia-schools-finding-more-space-in-classrooms.html
    http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/east-volusia/2011/08/03/new-charter-schools-submit-applications-in-volusia-flagler.html

  25. Jodi H says:

    Palm Coast RETREATS? SERIOUSLY??!!! And they didn’t even address the issue in the budget? It wouldn’t seem so severe if they had let the Ajrams run an automotive dealership, like they let Tom Gibbs run a used car dealership, Palm Coast Import Auto Sales. Interestingly, the Ajrams only sell upper end models and would never keep a dealership that was in any way unattractive. I bought my car from them, and plan to buy all of my future vehicles from them. It also wouldn’t be so bad if the Ajrams weren’t pillars of the community, always keeping money local with advertising, and being very involved in little league, etc. For Christ’s sake, their kids were raised here! How can Palm Coast spit on such loyal, law abiding, honest people?

  26. Barney Fyfe says:

    Retreat after spending how much money on:

    Environmental Impact Statements/reviews
    Surveys
    Engineering studies
    Engineering plans
    Legal fees

    All, I am sure into the $500,000 range or higher, paid for by hard working citizens of Palm Coast. All for naught. Money down the drain. Good money after bad. And they simply just changed their mind? I can hear the city council now… Oh well, too bad, so sad. They have to do what we say and want anyway. Taxpayer be d@mned.

  27. Hank Rearden says:

    Congratulations to the 90% who didn’t vote in the election (primary) for Mayor. We will all (voters and non-voters alike) now get to enjoy 5 more years of the same things because of your apathy. There is another chance coming up to partially correct your past mistakes in the upcoming Council elections. Vote OUT one incumbent who has participated in the past fiascos and DO NOT vote for the lobbyist for the developers who are the ones planning to benefit from such outrageous actions by the PC Council. The Council already does their bidding PLESE do not increse their influnce

    Who is John Galt?

  28. mara says:

    OMG, but this city has its head up its ass about how to spend their money–I work near Central Park, and we sure have a s*#$tload of money to spend putting in new lighting and a park-wide sound system (yes, you read that right). Yet we don’t have money enough to put streetlights on all major street thoroughfares in the city.

    And shame on anyone “blaming the voters”, since, allegedly, only five percent of us voted in the last citywide election. If you want to assign blame, please take a good long look in the nearest mirror…

  29. mara says:

    ps. whatever our problems are here, for God’s sake, don’t invite the State AG’s office into this fiasco, that’ll only make it worse. Keep it local.

  30. barney fyfe says:

    Folks, keeping it local is exactly what you don’t want to do. Local operation run and managed by local thugs. While I am not saying it’s impossible to stop the shenanigans (corruption?) you will be hard pressed to break into the political machine to interrupt their process. Think Chicago!

  31. Jake says:

    we need sidewalks not a bigger road

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