In a surprise, and a big victory for opponents of a planned larger Captain’s BBQ at Bing’s Landing, County Commissioner Dave Sullivan this morning moved to reconsider the county’s lease with Captain’s which it approved on Nov. 19. Sullivan was part of the 3-2 majority approving that lease.
Today, he was part of a unanimous vote not so much rejecting the lease, but to have it “sidetracked for a while,” giving commissioners time to be presented with fuller information. Sullivan was joined by Commission Chairman Don O’Brien, and Commissioners Joe Mullins and Greg Hansen. Mullins was sitting through his first full business meeting of the commission, and had asked commissioners on Nov. 19 to delay their action then until he was seated.
“This motion is exactly what I was looking for when I spoke earlier. It’s not for or against the restaurant,” Mike Cocchiola told commissioners during another public-comment segment on the issue, just before the vote. He said it was a matter of better vetting the issue.
“I have come to the conclusion we do not have enough information yet to really go forward on that plan,” Sullivan said, recognizing that while he was supportive of the restaurant’s plans to expand, he was “not immune” to the public outcry, nor did he disagree with claims that the issue had not been properly vetted.
Mike Goodman, the co-owner of Captain’s, sat at the back of the meeting room, flanked by Jay Livingston, his attorney, and former County Commission candidate Abby Romaine, a Hammock resident and former leader of a community association there. But Goodman, as on previous occasions, opted not to speak.
For opponents of the lease, the vote today was vindication of a swift and impressive effort to mobilize public opposition to the plan, opposition that swelled even after the November 19 vote, with demonstrations outside of Bing’s on two successive Sundays.
The meeting began with the customary 30-minute public participation segment. A dozen people lined up, and all but one called on the commission to rescind its vote approving a new lease with Captain’s BBQ at Bing’s Landing. The 28-year lease enables that restaurant to build a new, larger building nearer the center of the park, with a bar, at its owners’ expense but with generous subsidies from the county, including rent limited to $1,000 a month for the first four years.
The plan galvanized staunch opposition from Hammock and other county residents who see the county park, acquired with taxpayers’ Environmentally Sensitive Lands program dollars, compromised by the business’ expansion, with little oversight by the county: the commission approved the lease without any independent analysis about the claims that the existing building is no longer viable (even though the lease provides for it to be usable for another 30 months), what the new building will cost, what it will look like, and so on.
“The first thing is we don’t want a bar and a bigger barbecue in our park,” one resident said, describing the reaction to the plans as an outcry. “There’s been no due diligence to examine the facts of this.”
“I’m a registered small-government Republican,” Steven Hatcher of the Hammock said. “I do not think that Flagler County should be in the business of subsidizing a business.”
The lease was signed on Friday, County Administrator Craig Coffey said (to groans in the commission chamber), raising what County Attorney Al Hadeed said were potential “legal implications,” which Hadeed will examine.
After the vote to reconsider the Nov. 19 vote, the commission agreed to hold a workshop to discuss the lease on Jan. 7. The workshop would “reconsider” the lease and its configurations.