A little after 3:30 p.m. Monday, the billboard’s geriatric skeleton—30 feet wide, 16 feet high, the belch and breadth of its visual pollution over the years immeasurable—crashed down. It was sawed off at its roots. It was pulled down by ropes, by Flagler County commissioners, by members of the Scenic A1A Pride committee and Friends of A1A, and by an effort 20 years in the making. An effort that culminated in June as the commission ratified a deal that by the end of 2016 will have removed up to 10 of 26 billboards along A1A.
No one said a prayer for the carcass. The 50-odd people who’d gathered for the occasion cheered and applauded instead. Drivers up and down A1A, which got its Scenic Byway designation in 2002, may have gaped as the monstrosity came down: as common a sight as billboards are in Florida, it’s not an exaggeration to say that for most Floridians, seeing one actually come down may be as rare as catching Halley’s comet.
So Bill Brinton–the Jacksonville attorney, anti-billboard crusader, former board member and current attorney of Scenic America, the national organization that battles billboard and other visual blight—wasn’t exaggerating when he told the crowd: “I will forever remember this day, as again we all should remember this day. Mark it down in your calendars, tell your children and grandchildren about it. This is a great day for Flagler County, it’s a great day for these county commissioners.” Just four states have banned billboards altogether: Maine, Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska. Florida is a very long way from a ban. But local efforts have made occasional gains.
Brinton then presented the commissioners with an Excellence in Leadership award from Scenic America “for everything you’ve done, everything you will do in the future,” he said. “And I do believe we will see more and more awards in the years to come for what you’ve been working on for two decades and will continue to work on for the years ahead.”
Standing to the side were the two deal-makers, who didn’t speak: Craig Coffey, the county administrator, and Jim Cullis, who owns the billboards, and watched what would normally have been his roadside cash cow cash it in for good. He was calm. He was even smiling at times. Cullis, a developer—he developed Grand Haven, for example—survived the Crash of 2008. It wasn’t going to take much to survive this one. Besides, he’s not exactly getting a bad end of the deal: The county commission agreed to pay him $140,000 in public dollars for his billboards, and let him still use eight of them for three more years before they’re eliminated.
“I get to keep them for three years and I get some of my money back, so everybody wins,” he said. “And I live on A1A, so I don’t mind seeing them go down.”
Even the massive billboard at the intersection of A1A and Camino del Mar, at the entrance of Hammock Dunes—the ugliest one of them all, given its size and prominence as a marker to one of Palm Coast’s entrances—will be gone, but not for another three years. “We’ve been after this for 30 years, another three years isn’t going to kill us,” Coffey said.
In the deal Coffey and Cullis worked out, and that the county commission ratified, Cullis got $12,500 for each of four large billboards along A1A and $7,500 for four smaller ones. He got nothing for two additional billboards. And he got $60,000 for a billboard along I-95, which the county will retain and use for its own advertising down the line, to promote either tourism or economic development. The $80,000 that went toward the A1A billboards was public money, but not tax revenue: rather, the money came out of the close-out fund of the Hammock Dunes Development of Regional Impact—money paid by the developer. The $60,000 for the I-95 billboard was a combination of general fund tax dollars (out of the economic development pot) and tourism tax dollars (out of the bed surtax mostly paid by visitors).
It was a creative way to achieve what previously had been thought unachievable: the use of public dollars to remove billboards.
“Take notice, take notice state of Florida of Flagler County,” Brinton said. “They’re providing the leadership and the goals of what you should be, we should all be, up in Duval or wherever, maybe especially in Miami, should be looking to accomplish.”
Brinton had book-ended his remarks between the first words written in English from the New World and the last public words spoken by Charles Kuralt, the CBS correspondent and far-flung traveler of America’s byways, which he happened to have spoken in an address to Scenic America less than two months before he died in 1997.
Those first words had been written by Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, envoys of Sir Walter Raleigh, in a 1584 dispatch to Queen Elizabeth from Roanoke Island, describing the place, with characteristic capital letters for every word, as “the Goodliest Land Under the Cope of Heaven.” Monday afternoon Brinton attached those words to Flagler County. Then he closed on Kuralt’s optimism: “We do need legislation. But the way it’s going to have to be done place by place, and one place after another by the people who live there,” Kuralt had said. “Ordinary Americans, I am persuaded of this with all my heart,” Kural;t had said, “ordinary Americans want a beautiful country. We are proud of the amber waves of grain and the purple mountains majesties. And we are not powerless. We can have, we really can, the land Amadas and Barlowe had seen — the Goodliest Land Under the Cope of Heaven.”
Somewhere in the universe, Edward Abbey is smiling.
Billboard Removal Program: Flagler County
I think this is great especially for the Hammock area but also for the scenic character of A1A through its 19 mile journey through Flagler County.
The only problem with no signs at all is that visitors are more likely to keep driving down A1A and never make the turn into Palm Coast, perhaps not realizing there is a thriving city just over the Hammock Dunes bridge. Our local businesses rely heavily on visitor traffic.
You know what would easily solve this without being an eyesore? A simple DOT sign that says “Palm Coast Business District” or a blue “Food * Gas * Lodging” sign with an arrow to direct people over the Hammock Dunes bridge. Because if you are from out of town you probably won’t even realize you are passing Palm Coast as you drive through the Hammock.
Even something decorative depending on regulations:
I just hope they leave the billboards up long enough for us to figure out who Julie is. (joking)
Seriously though who is Julie? I assumed it was for a gift shop but never figured it out. It’s bugging me now
Peggy Popovich-White says
In 2005, my daughter Julie Popovich was a missing person. She had been taken from an Ohio State University bar in Columbus, Ohio by a stranger. Her body was recovered 21 days later in a field approximately 20 miles from the bar where she was last scene celebrating a friends birthday. The man that killed her is serving 38 years to life in SE correctional Facility in Lucasville.
When I saw the billboard last week on a motorcycle ride with my husband. it brought back a flood of memories. But I have found peace with those memories. Julie’s killer is behind bars and Julie is with me everyday. My mission now is to bring hope and a shoulder to parents who have recently lost children to the most unmeasurable of circumstances.
As if I thought that the city and county had peaked on trivial crap that is not a problem when the yard sale permit ordinance passed, a picture on this article of so many taking pictures of a fallen billboard. What a sad, sorry place this has become. We have criminals running around robbing and hurting innocent people and roads that need repaving, these people are surrounding this fallen billboard taking picture after picture as if it was a meteorite chunk or a piece of an old space satellite that fell in their neighbor’s yard.
I agree ryan. I drove by and there were two police cars with lights on and all these people. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. A billboard going down. LOL All these people taking pictures of a billboard going down. LOL I would of taken it down for FREE! Some people have to much time on their hands.
This is grand decision . . . For some reason these billboards simply did not belong along this particular stretch of highway. In fact, as I think about it – where else along A1A do you see billboards like these? They are, in fact, a distraction from what folks are here to see – – that beautiful ocean.
I walk this particular area frequently. If this is the billboard I think it is, it was the most repulsive. There was this huge photo of a foot with fungus under the toenail – advertising what I don’t know. Who had the stomach to read it?
And that @#%$ sign was up for what seemed like years (probably too many months!).
Many thanks to the Flagler County Commissioners. I appreciate their efforts to get all billboards signs down. I am sure tourists now can enjoy their after-dinner travels without the heartburn that sign caused – and of course, now leaving them with long lasting impressions of the ‘best of Flagler County’s beaches’.
What is funny about all this from years of driving up and down the A1A corridor through Flagler County is that none of these Boards block any view of the ocean or river. Seems to me that the county commissioner’s and also the Scenic America people were handing out the Kool-Aid that every drank. Any money that was used undoubtedly was a waste, Even if the amount was only $60,000 that money could have been used to better certain area’s. Billboards are eye sores to alot of the older crowd I get that. But lets be honest here they serve a purpose to local business owners as a form of advertising. Without local business owners contributing their tax dollars back to Flagler County and the local municipalities where will these bodies be? If a business closes due to lack of business where do they go. There is always a recourse to every action taken and not taken.
THE VOICE OF REASON says
The Voice of Reason
Laments the days
When we could read
About Burma Shave.
Nancy N. says
And we wonder why Flagler has a reputation of being anti-business. How are local business owners supposed to advertise their presence to the many tourists passing through the county if all the billboards are gone?
I know of at least one local business owner who is very reliant on her local billboard to attract tourist traffic to her business. These things have a function that supports people making a living and paying taxes.
Jorgen Pedersen says
Your friend will have so many visitors, when the word is spread that this area is one, where you can enjoy NOT being visually invaded and insulted. We are many travellers, who seek the landscape, the scenery, the vistas… and who DO NOT want to meet those ridiculous signage all fighting to be bigger than the neighbor – a never-ending ‘terror balance’ with the visual environment and there by all of us as loosers.
We are many travllers – and we pack loads of money. And we go the NICE places.
So if your friend thinks just a little further than the tip of her nose, she’ll be welcoming true tourism and wealthy visitors in her whatever shop.
Finally – why is it, that you believe that it’s quite allright that ONE PERSON makes a profit on disturbing THOUSANDS of other persons? That is not my kind of liberalism. You may do what you like – as long as you respct other peoples needs and borders!
Keep the signs coming down, maybe we meet soon, then!
A future visitor looking for beauty, not billboards
Carol Daley says
I was driving down A1A and actually looking for Palm Coast, but never saw it…oh well, beaches north and south of your town are happy to have my business.
I did see a “Do You Know Julie” billboard on the outskirts of St. Augustine or maybe S.A. Beach. After seeing these posts, I am now very curious as to what this billboard was all about.
Gina LeBeau says
The signs are still there. I saw 3. Who is Julie, Where is Julie, and do you know Julie. Is this an actual person or a joke?
I saw a love not to Julie sign driving from Flagler beach to Palm Coast… Who is Julie!!!! It’s really bugging me
Yes what is up with Julie? I guess as long we pay can put anything on sings.
At least I am glad they corrected the lighted portable signal in Palm Coast Parkway announcing some “traffic PATERN, to traffic PATTERN”. I know we are all humans…but please proof read the signs before they go out of the shop, as will make Palm Coast… look better yet.
Once at city hall they had a picture of the American Flag with only 48 stars….when asked about it, the receptionist replied…how many stars is supposed to have..? We are all human… I told myself.
As strange as it may sound, I know that there is a woman named Julie Weflen who disappeared years ago and her husband spear-headed a massive campaign to try and find her. I go to Hammock Beach and Washington Oaks often and have always wondered myself if it could be her.