Flagler County commissioners on Monday got new options to resolve the stalled and controversial plan to move Captain’s BBQ to the center of Bing’s Landing, a popular county park on the Intracoastal Waterway in the Hammock.
The commissioners did not make a decision today. They were meeting in workshop to get the detailed overview of the Captain’s plan that they did not get late last year, before approving a lease amendment that appeared to be a done deal and drew so much opposition that the commission subsequently set aside its decision, pending deliberations like today’s.
The option that drew hints of support, at least from a few of the more than a dozen people who spoke (known as “option four”), is an alternative site that would keep the restaurant in its more off-center location, and move it further southwest, closer to the waterway. That plan would give Captain’s what it wants: a larger footprint and a new building it would build at its own cost, without having to shut down the existing restaurant meanwhile. And it would give opponents of the previous plan what they want: a park that preserves its character, tree cover and green zones while still enabling a popular amenity to carry on.
“There is a win-win solution embedded in this presentation, and that is option four,” Abby Romaine, a former president of the Hammock Community Association (when it was known as the Hammock Conservation Coalition) and a close supporter of Captain’s, said.
Mike Goodman, who owns Captain’s with Chris Herrera, told a reporter he would go with option four as a compromise. And when Joe Mullins, the newest county commissioner, asked for a show of hands from the audience regarding the favorability of option four, most hands went up. Commissioner Dave Sullivan said he was willing to “take a hard look at option four,” and was joined by Don O’Brien, the commission chairman, and Mullins. Commissioner Greg Hansen still favored the existing proposal, but said “if we can keep everybody happy and on board” with option four, he’d support it.
But most of those who spoke did so on terms framed by the last few months’ controversy–arguing either for or against the restaurant’s expansion, without taking account of today’s compromise options that would essentially make black-and-white pro and con arguments moot.
Supporters of the restaurant urged the commission to approve the restaurant’s expansion and recognize its value to visitors and the local business climate without sending “the wrong message to other businesses considering expanding or relocating to our county,” in the words of Flagler Chamber of Commerce President Jorge Gutierrez.
Opponents of the lease amendment urged the commission to take the park’s history and character into account, and to not “pick winners and losers,” one A1A restaurant owner said. “Changing the character of the park is unacceptable,” Dennis Clark, who chairs the Scenic A1A Committee, said, seeing in Captain’s growth indication that it has “outgrown the park.” He doesn’t oppose its existing location, but “anything larger should be located elsewhere.”
County Administrator Craig Coffey presented six options to commissioners, the first two being either to rebuild the restaurant at its present location or repairing it. Option three is the current, controversial plan to move the restaurant more to the center of the park. Option four is to build new at a site just to the southwest of the existing restaurant, in place of a pavillion, or even closer to the Intracoastal (as suggested by Commissioner Joe Mullins). Option five is to build it new further to the south, on a more untouched portion of the existing park. And Option six is to build it at the north end of the park, fronting on A1A.
Option four had the longest list of positives: minimal tree loss, less obstructed view of the Intracoastal, little cost to taxpayers, no restaurant closure, no legal liability. “This is an option that staff has resisted but if everybody thinks it’s good, that’s fine with us,” Coffey said.
The administration is recommending options three or four, and Coffey on a few occasions was clearly testing support for option four. Captain’s still prefers option three.
Coffey is not favoring rebuilding the restaurant at its present site.
Before going into the options, he gave commissioners a history of Bing’s, including the little that’s known about the early history of the building that houses the restaurant. That building, a Universal Engineering inspector Coffey brought in said, needs a new roof and exhibits wood rotted from termites, among other structural problems. “The only way to fix this is to remove that wood floor system” and rebuild the base, from where the rot is originating, the inspector said. “The problem with that is, we have to shut down the restaurant.”
Coffey, the consultant and Heidi Petito, the county’s facilities director, spent a lot of time discussing and illustrating the extent of the damage undergirding the existing building and how extensive repairs would have to be. “It’s a never ending thing,” Coffey said, referring to a 50 percent threshold that, once triggered, would mean that building new makes more sense. “He’s confirming what we knew as staff for a year, and the owners knew as well,” Coffey said of the Universal contractor.
The administrator also outlined other issues that attach to the Captain’s matter: septic, parking, the lease’s history through the commission (“no problems, no opposition,” Coffey said of previous amendments). He said the lease was drafted on the assumption that the restaurant was not a controversial business, nor would its move to a different site, and so would not warrant more than pro-forma ratification by the commission after elements of the plan went through the Scenic A1A committee and the county’s planning board.
In that regard, Coffey miscalculated: the plan’s lack of clarity at various steps raised more questions than it answered and eventually led to the public backlash. He never explained, for example, why today’s ample and options-rich presentation was not made to the commission before the commission was given only the one, controversial lease amendment to approve.
Coffey’s presentation also sought to show that the relatively low rent Captain’s has been paying and would be paying is not as low as it appears, once the county’s maintenance and other costs are accounted for: since Captain’s is willing to assume maintenance costs in the future, that saving to the county does not show up in its rent revenue, but remains part of the value the county is gaining, the administrator said.
Hadeed began the meeting by placing the issue in a legal context: Captain’s has a lease with the county. He interpreted the county’s obligations under that lease and the liabilities to which it may be exposed if the county breaches, interferes with or ends Captain’s ability to operate as profitably as it has.
His preface to the meeting was a warning: Captain’s could sue, and not just if the county were to end the lease outright, but if it merely did things that prevented Captain’s from continuing what he called its “rising trajectory of income.” That meant, in Hadeed’s view, that if the existing building was not structurally sound anymore, as both the county and Captain’s claim, Captain’s could have grounds to sue even if the county were to decide to build a new restaurant on the same footprint, and if the restaurant’s revenue was badly affected by the project. If Captain’s wins its suit, it would have the right to recoup all attorneys’ fees.
Though he did not say so explicitly, Hadeed’s preface was not a guide on what to do next, but a warning about what would happen if the county did not do what its administration pledged to do with and for Captain’s through its latest and most controversial lease amendment. The presentation seemed to give the county little room to set aside the amended lease or even to set aside the heart of the contested plan: that of moving Captain’s.
“We as a landlord have an obligation to provide them a facility from which they can operate,” Hadeed said. “Because of the potential exposure to an indeterminate amount of damages and potential for attorney’s fees that the county should not, could not, terminate the lease.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Jay Livingston, the attorney representing Captain’s, said there’d never been a threat of litigation, and that his clients were approaching the issue cooperatively, not litigiously.
Hadeed’s was not the only legal warning: Attorney Jane West, who with attorney Dennis Bayer is representing the Hammock Community Association, told the commission during the latter part of the workshop of the association’s own appeal of the lease the county approved in December. “There’s just so much left up in the air,” she said, calling it “not fair to your constituents.”
If Hadeed’s preface was narrowly tailored to the legalities of the issue, it did not discuss the administrative compromises in the works, such as the three other siting options Coffey and the administration have come up with since the controversy exploded, in addition to the contested option. Hadeed did not say how any of those alternative options would affect the county’s liabilities, likely because as long as the county is providing Captain’s a means of doing business while providing it with a sound structure, it’s fulfilling its lease obligations.
So the siting issue becomes an executive matter for the commissioners to decide.
Hadeed sought to correct the record about the purpose of the county’s $1 million acquisition of Bing’s Landing with Environmentally Sensitive Land tax dollars in 1989: It was not bought for habitat conservation, as were the River-to-Sea and Princess Place preserves, but to provide public boating access to the Intracoastal Waterway. “It was not bought for the preservation of historic resources,” Hadeed said, because at the time there was no awareness that there were “significant” historical resources on the property. That was an unforeseen benefit of the park.
Nevertheless, the “archaeological dig of the Mala Compra Plantation” has since become an integral part of the park’s purpose, as the county’s own web page on the park notes, on par with its “state-of-the-art boat launch, fishing pier, picnic and playground facilities.”
They should be GRATEFUL that they are allowed to have what they currently have. There is NO valid reason to move it, or enlarge it. The rest of Bing’s is not up for sale, or lease. The ultimate answer should be a RESOUNDING NO! There are PLENTY of other places for a larger facility. If they are doing such business, open a second location, But NOT at Bing’s.
Keep captains out of our parks! They are poison in our water and would sue to ensure our parks remain tainted with profiteering and destruction of something pure. We do not want captains bbq in our park!!!!
Much a do about a freakin BBQ restaurant. Enough already
Rick Belhumeur says
That’s how it should have been handled the first time, not an item on the consent agenda. Especially with such volumes of public non-supporters.
If I were a business owner (especially someone who owns a restaurant along A1A ) I’d say this deal stinks! Since Captain’s BBQ is getting a break, how about giving all of us the same?
How can anyone compete when you guys are capriciously handing out financial handicaps?
“It still stinks!”
Oh, let’s see….Just move the new location to the other side where the woods and wildlife live. Oh, that’s much better…….NOT !!!!
Rich guys snooker county government yokels, get free land and and a business. Rich guys want to expand on government property, propose ridiculous expansion into the park, public outcry, county proposes alternative they really wanted, public satisfied they have changed the course of history.
Concerned Citizen says
So let me get this straight.
A privately owned BBQ resteraunt is on county owned land. They pay bribes oops I mean “campaign contributions” wink wink nudge nudge to county officials, This allowed them to initially violate a lease then ram rod a new one with negative impacts to the park. And all in the dark until Flagler Live got it.
Our County leadership then allowed itself to be put in the position of not being able to forfeit the lease because they can be sued. So now basically Captains has the BOCC by the throat and will get their way regardless.
Everyone has been so focused on getting Craig Coffey fired that no one is interested in investigating what Sally Sherman, Heidi Petito, Al Hadeed and our BOCC involvment was.
A lot of folks should be held accountable. This wasn’t just a one man show. I’m wondering if the state or Feds can be brought in to investigate. At minimum you have bribes and Sunshine Laws violated.
Our County leadership needs a lesson in accountability, ethics and morales. They need to be reminded that they represent ALL of us. Not just private resturaunt owners who line their pockets with “campaign contributions”.
I don’t see how the lease protects the interests of the County. This lease, as described, contains provisions with penalty for interfering with “rising trajectory of income”. Since when are the citizens responsible for the profit of any private business? How did the attorney let the county sign a lease like this in the first place? And for $750/month?
There is NO benefit to the county for a larger footprint private restaurant even to the southwest. It benefits Captains. It is still in our park. Now we are going to let Captains pave and expand the building and invite patrons — and what kind of crazy lease terms are we giving away this time?
The owners of Captains should put on their big boy panties and man up and go across the street and rent out Rosie’s old place or something similar. Then they can see what it’s like to run a business in the real world, not relying taxpayer funds to make a living. Just a pair of weak old men. How sad.
Sounds like a good plan. Some people are always going to object to ANY changes in THEIR neighborhood, unless iust happens to involve an expansion of THEIR or a family member or friend’s home–the way that the world once made room for them.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
It is all about the required 150 minimum seat capacity required for the specific “ 4COPSRX” liquor license they want ( which the county by law will have to get and by law the county is obligated to operate the bar under this license…)
The new lease gives them credit for $300,000 of ( unsubstantiated) building expenses since 2011 but the building needs a new roof? Let’s get real.
Where does the county profit? NOWHERE!!!!!!! Sales tax goes to the state. County is 100% liable as property owner in case of any accident – lessee cannot hold landowner exempt from ANY liability. Ask Commissioner O’Brien.
Who is going to give anyone a million dollar loan – and who is going to ask for a million dollar loan unless they know in advance that they will make $$$$$$ millions in liquor sales$$$$ in return yet not owe the county a dime. if THEY ARE GOING TO SECURE THEIR PERSONAL PROPERTY WHICH THEY HAVE TO – THEY ARE CERTAIN OF THEIR PROFITS – WHICH WE SEE NOT A PENNY OF. PLEASE TAKE OFF YOUR SUNGLASSES COMMISSIONERS.
I am going to ask for the $100,000 investment as mentioned in lease 2 and 3 and the new $300,000 ‘ known investment’ they will get credit for in lease 4.
I am doing to demand every single penny be justified.
County has spent thousands upon thousands just on Hadeed’s hourly salary of $96 and Coffey’s salary, close to same to concoct 4 leases totaling 50 pages – which by the way protects the county from all lost revenue liability in lease 1 which ‘inures’ forever- so does the wine and beer only license. SEE LEASE 1
They get together for Happy Hour probably and ask “How do we screw the taxpayers and make them think we are doing something good to help our friends make millions they can keep to themselves ( ummm…?) ? We justify rebuilding a new facility which meets the state 150 seat requirement for the money making 4COPSRX license ”
Unless Hadeed can’t read the law, the county will have to take in the county’s name – Hadeed and Coffey are well aware of the scheme from A to Z. The county IS not LIABLE FOR ANY LOST REVENUE – REAS ORIGINAL LEASE!!!READ READ READ LIKE I DID AND YOU WILL SEE IT IS ALL B.S.
Wanna rebuild? Same 60 seats – same square footage – $4,000 a month rent or take a hike guys. It’s my land not yours ! NO HARD LIQUOR LICENSE UNLESS YOU COMMISSIONERS WILL TAKE PERSONAL LIABILITY IF A DRUNK TAKES OUT A BOAT AND KILLS SOMEONE – DON’T MORTAGE MY MONEY
WHERE IS THE PROOF THAT THE BUILDING NEEDS TO BE TORN DOWN.? AGAIN WHERE IS THE PROOF OF THEIR $300,000 INFVESTMENT ( ON A BUILDING FALLING APART?)??????
COFFEY AND HADEED NEED TO GO -WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD EITHER JOKERS IN MY HUMBLE, PASSIONATE, COMMON SENSE, NON PROFESSIONAL OPINION.
I HAVE DONE MY HOMEWORK AND THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE:
4COPSRX LIQUOR LICENSE X NEW BUILDING X 150 SEATS= BIG BIG BUCKS FOR THEM – JUST 100% LIABILITY FOR US.. (WE DON’T EVEN REQUIRE THEM TO BE SOLVENT!(). WAKE UP GENTLEMEN PLEASE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME
If there is liability for violating the old lease, it exists on both sides. Captains violated the terms of the lease- the county would have a solid counter suit. I don’t suppose Hadeed mentioned that. Don’t let the county hoodwink us. Let them vacate and do what any other business would do. No new building in the park.
Concerned Citizen says
Speaking for myself it’s the way this whole thing was handled. No procedure was followed and it was done in the dark. This whole deal involved land that was meant for public use not private.
Captains BBQ paid money to protect their interest (campaign contributions). They then managed to corner the county in a one sided lease.
Had this been anyone else the County would have squashed the first movement. Now the county is blackmailed into doing what Captains wants.
What I want to know Is when will our County officials be held accountable for this?
“Supporters of the restaurant urged the commission to approve the restaurant’s expansion and recognize its value to visitors and the local business climate without sending “the wrong message to other businesses considering expanding or relocating to our county,” in the words of Flagler Chamber of Commerce President Jorge Gutierrez.”
So the Chamber of Corruption’s position is if county government doesn’t subsidize businesses it’s bad for the county? He probably considers himself a capitalist too…LOL
Just the facts says
So how do the commissioners explain their action in approving the deal without any information?
The fact is the terms of the lease are still wrong. This deal is not in the best interest of the county or the citizens.
Locations 220.127.116.11 and else, NO! Get the BBQ out of the park. One of the two owners Goodman as stated had the nerve to call an expletive name, to a new restaurant applicant with no success so far given all the barriers county puts on him to open a new restaurant on A1A.
Also what about the BBQ manager taken to jail for rape of a minor? Get the BBQ out of the park and the county top administrators and counsel booted! We do not need the Chamber of Commerce President one more time taking a stand against the resident taxpayers that own the land. Boot them all out and if the BBQ owners sue lets see all in court and the outcome may no be so sweet BBQ sauce. Lets then the county administrators, counsel and all in their cheering group pay the award in court, not the innocent taxpayers denied a say!
Willy Boy says
Win – Win then Re-Win again.
Beach bum says
Why didn’t it go out to bid? Isn’t that illegal? So now the whole county is stuck with these greedy clowns because they could sue for loss of revenue? I call BS on that, like Jane said read the first agreement, capt’s has been in breech of his lease from day one, no bait n tackle, not opening at 6am, and operating a full fledged restaurant where it was only supposed to be to-go bbq, is the existing septic capable of supporting a restaurant? It’s been dug up multiple times that I’ve seen. Time for the Capt to set sail! You’ve made enough off your sweetheart deal. Park was bought to provide access to the ICW, county does an excellent job maintaining this jem, but if I can’t tie my boat up to the dock while I park my truck, because of all the bbq eating folks, how is this right?
Well said, Snapper” Chamber of Corruption” that is why ours and other county and city businesses stop being their members 20 years ago.This Chamber always taking the side of corruption, lies and against the residents quality of life and safety,
Ben Hogarth says
Irrespective of Mr. Hadeed’s position on chronology, the use is simply not lawful. (See O’Neil v Burns)
Al – I know your job is to protect the county and the commission has gotten itself into quite the predicament here… but the incidental public benefit presented by the Captains BBQ lease at the park is a violation of FL Constitution Article VII Section 10. Putting aside the initial intent of the land acquisition of the property and the fact the historical discoveries were subsequental to that… this is no different than any other development upon which a major archeological or protected species is later found. The order upon which such discoveries are made do not act as conclusory to a question of public interest. We both know this and we both know such defense would not survive a legal challenge.
It would be in the best interest of this commission to risk suit from Captains BBQ than to double down and further violate standing law. While most people simply want to preserve the integrity of the park, they do not have the legal background to determine such matters as what truly constitutes a public benefit. This is for a judge to determine, case by case as opined by the FL Supreme Court in O’Neil v Burns.
And In no way is the Captains BBQ use of the park a primary public benefit. This is subsidized lease of a private business that inures only to a private benefit. Any public benefit if established by such public nexus would certainly be determined to be incidental; a happenstance, if you would.
And the Florida Supreme Court decided long ago what the measure of public benefit would be. This is nothing new. Unfortunately, I do not think this is one the county can win. Best to cut losses now.
I have a sickening feeling that this deal is going to go through no matter what. It’s what the owners want and they will do everything in their power to get it, just like the owners of the old hospital building did to get that building sold, regardless of the consequences, of which we are now seeing. Can’t help but think that some of the commissioners don’t have some kind of special interest in Captains, because in no way would they allow this kind of deal with some other restaurant owner. If I owned a restaurant here, I would be absolutely BS at the unfairness of the deal to the rest of the business owners in this county,
Sweet deal for a crappy run down BBQ joint
There will be no compromise when it comes to our parks! Keep business and political corruption away from Floridas preserved land and parks!