Flagler Beach officials are looking into whether the city should bid on the failed the Ocean Palm Golf Club course at a foreclosure sale.
The prospect of running a municipal golf course is daunting, especially with evidence of staggering losses at Palm Coast’s city course, which taxpayers have had to subsidize heavily. But there’s strong interest in making sure recreation is the only use of the 34 acres between Central Avenue and the Halifax River, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean, at the southernmost end of town (not far from the city’s water tower).
So far, Flagler Beach officials have preserved the land for recreation through zoning, sticking to their conviction despite a court challenge from the owners.
Several years ago, the Ocean Palm Golf Club Partnership requested a rezoning to allow construction of 164 homes on the golf course property, which was built in 1959 and opened in 1960.
Current City Commissioner Kim Carney was on the commission when the golf course rezoning was requested several years ago, and the panel rejected the request by a unanimous vote. The golf course owner challenged Flagler Beach in court, saying the city had taken away its property rights by refusing to allow construction of 164 new homes. But the city had always intended for the land to be recreation. The court sided with Flagler Beach last year.
“We just won that lawsuit,” Carney said. “They cannot force us to rezone. With all the stormwater problems that property has, it would be against the city’s best interest to allow new construction.”
Carney said her interest in the golf course is “having it so no one else could do anything to it except keeping it recreational. If you own it, you have control. If you don’t own it, you can’t control it it other than through zoning. There’s nothing to say a commission 10 years from now couldn’t rezone the property.” Rezoning the golf course, even in the future, appears unlikely to Carney. “It’s going to take a lot to get that rezoned,” she said. “I would personally never rezone it.”
“I also don’t personally want us to own it,” Carney said, referring to the city. She opposes using city reserves to buy property. She also opposes paying $1.7 million for the golf course, which is the amount of the mortgage.
However, nobody knows what the purchase cost will be. The property was foreclosed on in December 2012 and will be sold at auction at the Flagler County Courthouse. The city will likely bid.
A foreclosure sale is schedule for 11 a.m., March 27 at the Kim C. Hamond Justice Center, 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Building 1, in Bunnell, in the civil-criminal department on the second floor. City officials were notified of the sale roughly a week ago, leaving little time for leaders to determine whether Flagler Beach should get involved and bid on the land. City officials said residents have been asking if the city will buy the golf course. Most of the approximately two dozen people who spoke at a special City Commission meeting Thursday evening (March 7) urged the city to buy and re-open the golf course.
No vote was taken, but City Manager Bruce Campbell was directed to provide options for discussion at the next regular City Commission meeting on March 14, in the Commission chambers at City Hall.
“There are a number of options that are available right now,” Commissioner Steve Settle, whose house is one of the dozens that adjoin the property in question, said. “I don’t think we’ve got a lot of info on what would be best for the city of Flagler Beach.”
Even if commissioners had wanted to vote on March 7, they couldn’t. Two commissioners were absent from the special meeting (Joy McGrew and Marshall Shupe). Because Settle owns a home next to the golf course, he would have recused himself from voting because he might benefit from city action to buy the property. Two commissioners would have lacked the quorum necessary to conduct a proper vote, and likely wouldn;t have anyway, so as not to deny their colleagues the chance to have a voice in the matter.
The golf course has been closed for the past several years. It was a par 33, nine-hole golf course that played at 2,318 yards from the back tees and included a driving range. Settle said he bought his house long before he ran for the commission because he wanted to live next to a golf course and he would like to at least see the land continue to be used for recreation.
“The peace and tranquility of it is why I purchased the property,” Settle said. “That it could change, I’m not wild about that. I’d like to see the peace, tranquility and ocean breezes blowing across the property stay, but I can’t participate in the decision.”
Running a municipal golf course without sinking tax dollars into operations is extremely difficult. In response to a request from Flagler Beach’s city manager, Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon provided financial statements from that city’s operations of the Palm Harbor golf course, which show annual operating net losses of $28,303 in 2010, $15,272 in 2011 and $90,890 in 2012.
A note from Landon stated that Palm Coast had spent $4 million on a complete rebuild of its Palm Harbor golf course. “We have established an enterprise fund for the operating cost, but each year we have run a deficient (deficit) in the fund that is supported by the general fund,” the note states.