Palm Coast has spent millions of dollars to acquire rights-of-way around Bulldog Drive. Palm Coast is spending millions to widen it in a project that started turning ground just last week. Bulldog Drive has been at the center of an epic battle between the city and a business owner who’s refused to sell at the city’s price, holding out for his own—and incurring years of harassment, legal maneuvers and the threat of condemnation. Bulldog Drive features among the city’s defining entrances to its Town Center and is projected to be an emblem of Palm Coast’s beauty and meaning.
But Bulldog Drive does not belong to Palm Coast. Never has.
It’s a County Road. County Road 401, to be precise.
Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon and other city officials were startled by the embarrassing revelation. They hadn’t discovered the error. Gus Ajram and his team had—Ajram, the same business owner the city had battled all those years (including rancorous and personal hostility between Landon and Ajram) on the assumption, now proven false, that the land in front of Ajram’s automotive business on Bulldog Drive was city right of way.
“Bulldog Drive is currently a county road known as County Road 401, it has never been transferred to the city,” Maureen Jones, Ajram’s attorney, told the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday evening. When the county ceded Palm Coast to what became the incorporated city more than a decade ago both sides signed an interlocal agreement that listed all the roads and streets that were to be part of the deal. Bulldog Drive was never on it.
The Palm Coast City Council was on the verge of quietly taking over the road and calling it its own at Tuesday’s meeting: the item was listed under its “consent” agenda, the portion of the agenda that lists routine items that are approved in bulk, without discussion, unless a council member or a member of the public requests that an item be pulled out for discussion. Jones’s intervention did just that.
The city was ready to acquire the road on the assumption that it had maintained it and repaired it for more than a decade, authorizing it to take it over.
Not so, Jones informed the council.
“You’re claiming that through maintenance, you’re going to dedicate this to yourself, but it’s a two-tiered statute that you must actually build the road and dedicate it,” Jones said, essentially telling the council that it was about to commit an illegal taking. “The county has built the road and the county has never transferred it to the city. So I am requesting first of all that you table that agenda until you get a transfer of that roadway from the county to the city before you can dedicate any maintenance, right of way to yourselves. If you don’t own it, you can’t really claim that you built it.”
Jones later added: “Currently the city is spending a lot of money on a road that’s actually owned by the county. You have a million-dollar contract out there for engineers and paid $5 million for paving that’s all on the county road at this point in time.”
The city had no defense.
“The person that presented this is correct. It is county right of way, it is has not been transferred to the city,” Landon said. “That was a surprise to us, because we have been, we’ve always considered it ours, our maintenance map shows it’s ours.” But maintenance is not ownership, as property owners who also maintain strips of right-of-way land in front of their properties well know. “Until the county transfers it to the city, if they choose to, they don’t have to, but if they choose to, that 25-foot blue strip stays county and further on actually all of blue would be county very likely.”
The 25-foot blue strip of Bulldog Drive, slicing into Town Center from State Road 100, appeared on a map Landon showed. There is also a 50-foot strip of land the city considers its own from having it ceded by the school district (Flagler Palm Coast High School stretches to the west of Bulldog Drive, opposite Ajram’s business). But that strip, too, is county-owned, Jones says, not school board owned.
“We’re not questioning–I’m not going to get into a debate but we’ve done a title search etc.,” Landon said. “As far as the school district etc., public, actually in this case, CRA dollars, are being spent on public right of way, state right of way, county right of way, city right of way. It is, you know, it’s on public right of way, and will continue to be owned by the public, and those public dollars are staying on that public right of way. Whether state or county or city.”
Landon is right, but the point he was making is immaterial to the issue Jones was raising—and the history of the clash between Palm Coast and her client, which had been predicated not on the fact that the right-of-way was public land, but that a government that didn’t own it was pressuring Ajram.
Landon, who met with County Administrator Craig Coffey Wednesday morning, has been in overdrive, trying to get the county to approve the transfer of the land to the city. He provided the county a ready-to-sign county ordinance to that effect.
“I apologize for this surprise, but I can assure you this was a surprise to us also,” Landon wrote Coffey on March 3.
To the council Tuesday evening, Landon said: “I can’t imagine why the county would want this small strip of something that everybody has referred to as a city street, and at least the county administration has indicated they’d be very willing to submit it to the city, but that is a county commission decision and it hasn’t gone to them.”
He insisted to the council that the revelation changes nothing in the contracting and timeline of the construction on Bulldog Drive. Nor will the project itself, whatever the outcome of the right-of-way, affect Ajram’s property (for now, anyway), though Ajram disputes that: the road widening is cutting 8 feet into the depth of the lot in front of Ajram’s property. And future plans for the four-laning of Bulldog Drive have the road cutting through his building. But ceding to Jones’s request, the council voted unanimously to table the city’s proposed ordinance “so that we can follow the appropriate procedures,” Mayor Jon Netts said.
Ajram’s attorney plans to present the issue to the county commission at its March 17 meeting at 5 p.m., framed in terms of county support for small businesses, and with small business owners backing Ajram.
Several people addressed the council on the matter, bewildered at the development, including Dennis McDonald, the perennial city critic and current county commission candidate. McDonald asked the city if it had the proper permits to be working on county land. “I know Palm Coast is very big on that,” McDonald said. “Everyone’s got to be treated fairly, and that doesn’t seem like it’s going on here.”
again palm coast is wrong and wants to buy its way out of trouble instead of knowing what belongs to the city.before making yourselves look bad
P C says
City of Palm Coast are a bunch of idiots. 5 million on a road they don’t even own. Good job spending my tax dollors.
The continued game of Sim City that Palm Coast officials play would be comical if it wasn’t for the fact that they have carte blanche to do what they want. How that doesn’t scare local residents into leaving this city amazes me.
Wow! Let me get this straight. So Jim Landon and the rest of our city leaders refused to pay a fair market price to Ajram but paid it to everyone else, paid Ajram’s tenants to move out and lose his income, refuse to allow him to use his own property for business revenue causing more expense to him and then decided to just try and take his property?! The people of Palm Coast should look at this type of bullying practice. It is a big black eye for the city. Landon’s arrogance has cost the city millions of dollars more than it should have had he just paid AJRAM the fair market value for what he has worked hard for. Now we find out the city does not even own the property!
colleen ajram says
I want to thank the innocent “observers” from the citizen awards for commenting and all other supporters!!! You don’t know how much this meant to Gus and myself! Please keep the faith. Good does prevail against evil. Thank you all of you!!!!
Seminole Pride says
That road has been there as long as when the High School was built back in 1973. Long before Palm Coast. I know I was a student at Flagler Palm Coast in 1973.
I hope the county REFUSES to give them Bulldog drive. That will teach those “money grubbing” idiots..I mean city politicians…….Same thing !!!
And this city intends to push to manage our ballots by holding its own elections if denying our Supervisor of Elections to do so?
Their rabid favoritism to direct and waste our hard earned dollars to benefit certain local legal firm and their associates developers. made city officials to overlook county jurisdiction, is worthy of Feds investigation. Regarding county and city manipulation on purchases of overpriced vacant for years, contaminated, inhabitable real estate, utilities or new malls developments force funded via CRA by taking dedicated reserve funds from city utility defunded reserves should be looked by the Fed.. Now they raise our utility rates because “we do not have enough reserves” for needed infrastructure improvements…of course because those reserves were wasted in BullDog Drive private lands acquisitions, Old Kings Rd South infrastructure and the Town Center CRA. Palm Coast taxpayers millions wasted to benefit the few! Just look at the biggest building in Town Center across the main lake and square and ask yourselves who owns it!
Then is pathetic to have to read city councilman McGuire blatantly emphasizing almost disrespectfully to the constituents interest, that he supposedly represents, verbatim ” A lot of the residents I talk to think the city is omnipotent” Any doubt about it? Did you ask the residents about the city hall? Of course you did but after the residents said NO, you voted for the city hall anyway! You guys are omnipotent only when it comes to benefit the elite and developers and play powerless when need to stand for residents rights!
Here are the Palm Coast taxpayers millions wasted to benefit the few! Just look at the biggest building in Town Center across the main lake and plaza and ask yourselves who owns it!
I’m embarrassed too when I read about these oversights, stupid decisions.
Ms. Jones is well representing her client
On the other hand, the citizens of Palm Coast don’t have an attorney or any representation at all. The City Council listens to everyone but the Citizens. But we will have a “pretty” new City Hall soon enough.
The City attorney represents the City Council not the citizens according to the City website
Emma Nuel says
It’s time (long overdue actually) for everyone in Palm Coast to stand up and say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore!”.
There were many items on Monday nights Agenda that were a continuation of rezoning after rezoning people were taking exception to. Too much too fast, you can barely follow it. One thing is now clear. This City Council has an Agenda (is it theirs though, or someone else’s? But it surely isn’t Joe 6 pack (the rest of us who actually fund them and their agendas).
There are numerous documents in the beginning where it was clearly stated the intent of the new City was to further economic development while protecting the “Mom & Pops”. What I see is 1) You “Mom & Pops” are in the way of our Disney World we are trying to make happen here, and 2) We don’t care about our constituents. Oh and let’s add 3) We don’t get it.
There was a discussion at the end of the meeting about future items that need to be addressed with the State over local issues. The Mayor pontificates about no one knows better than the local governing body. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Folks – no one knows better than the residents and business owners of a locality. Your elected officials are there to serve you/us! NOT decide for us in arrogance what is best for us.G.E.A. existed prior to the incorporation of the City. Should their rights not be respected? (Not to mention they provide a service in Auto Repair that would have most of us HAVING to leave the City for dealerships well outside our City limits if they were not here? In many cases over an hour away.
We are at a crossroads here. Reign in this fiasco of “do what we want” the heck with what’s right, the concerns of our constituents or THE LAW?
I’d personally like an explanation of how we lost 2 approved projects (Sonic & Discount Tire) mid construction. The City of Palm Coast is now hampering the supposedly pro-economic development stance of the entire County. (I don’t care how the City explains the loss of these two projects, as being the developers decision. They were approved and under construction and they vanish?) Did the City do anything to assist them with whatever obstacles caused them to leave after a major investment? WE NEED TO BE MORE PROACTIVE (and no, I’m not talking about projects that got major tax breaks, never came through, and what have we done about that too).
We have major issues here folks, and we better figure it out FAST! Something is just not right when some companies got major incentives, are still here, and didn’t fulfill their obligations to us, small existing businesses are being harassed out, chain stores suddenly vanish mid-construction, and we don’t pursue them to a resolution.
Seriously think about this folks. Is this still our City, and if not who/why/what is to blame?
This battle has been going on for over 2 years between Mr. Ajram and Mr. Landon. Everybody knows about it.
Landon has been getting away with stealing taxpayer money for his pet projects long enough. It is time to remove both the City Manager and the City Attorney and the Mayor for gross negligence and theft of taxpayer funds. There is no excuse for this.
Rick Belhumeur says
The City of Palm Coast nearly killed a man by means of a heart attack after threatening to force him out of business because they claimed ownership of Bulldog Drive. It has always been my understanding that you have to own land before you can build on it. Proof of ownership must be provided before you can get a permit to build. Obviously, some people haven’t been doing their homework. Seems to me that Palm Coast needs to prove that they own this property, not Mr. Ajram’s attorney proving that they don’t. How can the city have a proper permit to even build on this property?
Seems just like an issue I recently went up against the city with. They wanted to enforce a state statute against me. The statute clearly stated that if I appealed the city’s decision that they were to give me a hearing no sooner than 5 days, but no later than 21 days. My letter to the city was dated December 9th. My hearing was set for February 4th. A little more than 21 days don’t you think. My course of action was to ask for a dismissal on the grounds of not being afforded a timely hearing per the statute. I was denied the dismissal for not being able to provide proof of prejudice due to the time difference. So what they showed me is that they want to make me follow the rules of a state statute and fine me and make me incur costs, but the city doesn’t have to. I won my appeal on other grounds, but how is it fair. I would advise anyone that has a issue with the city to appeal it. They want to enforce rules, but not follow the rules that govern their enforcing.
Steve Wolfe says
I attended the City Council meeting. It was a woeful presentation on behalf of a City that proclaims on a poster outside the meeting room in the Community Center that it “…accepts responsibility for its actions.” The councilmen all exited quickly after adjournment. I was happy to converse with the Fire Department representative, who was blameless after all we had witnessed. And all of this on the night that the most recent City’s “Citizen’s Academy” graduates received their recognition awards, followed by at least one graduate who was openly critical of the City Councilmen and Manager for fumbling badly.
This kind of administrative misstep begs the question of the integrity of ALL of the processes that have transpired on behalf of the citizens of Palm Coast under these leaders. This appears on the surface to be a simple matter of administrative homework, but the cavalier attitude of City leaders towards this matter is hypocritical when held in light of all of the permit requirements that this City places on citizens for simply cutting down a tree on your own property. If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander. Don’t tell me I need to follow rules to paint my front door while you contract construction on a road you don’t even own with MY MONEY. Perhaps a wake up call is in order. We are paying a City Manager and a City Attorney six figures in return for THIS kind of performance? I could do better than that for FREE.
Diana L says
Mr Landon said they did a title search. So why did it show up?
Diana L says
I meant, why did it not show up?
Rich O says
Makes me greatful I’m just inside Bunnell City limits.
Another city f***up. Yesterday elections, today this…what does tomorrow hold and what all is out there that we dont know about? Are the city council members sleeping or do they just like this embarrassment by the city manager. Is Landon really worth the half million dollars he sucks up of our tax dollars each year? What are the council members doing, just rubber stamping what Landon says?!?!?!!!!
Another stupid oversight by Landon and his over paid cronnies. One would think after almost ten years these idiots would have known.. I wonder how many millions of tax payers money this cost us????
First the Manager loaned a developer $8 million for a development that never happened. This money was taken from our storm water fund, I believe. They raised our rates as a result of this. I’m not sure, but I think that taking money from a public utility fund to lend to a developer may be against the law. Anyway, he slid by on that one. But hey….it’s Florida, right?
And now he signs a contract for over $5 million in road construction work on a road he doesn’t own, and KNOWS he doesn’t own. I guess he thought nobody would notice? I was at that council meeting. He admitted he knew that the city didn’t own it. And he would have gotten away with it had it not been for Mr. Ajram’s attorney showing up and letting everyone know that the city does not own that road.
Where I come from, this is fraud or gross incompetence. This man does whatever he feels like with public money and gets away with it, with the full support of the Mayor and the Council!
Is the City now going to pay Gus back all his legal fee’s? after all they had no right what so ever to even speak with him about the situation, never mind take him to court. This is the type of situation that warrants someones termination, how do you not do a search to find out if property is yours or not. The fact that city tax payers had to flip the legal bills and maintenence costs for something we did not own is absurd, I want to know who is being terminated for this public fiasco, Mr. Landon should resign for what he cost the city on this blunder.
THE VOICE OF REASON says
Exactly, Mike. I thought that right off the bat.
And there might be some punitive damages for what amounts to malicious prosecution.
I highly doubt that they didnt know this was a county road. They will do anything to finish their plans for the city and they do not care who they hurt in the process. Once again, they look like total idiots. Way to go Landon and company. Keep up the good work. Your batting a thousand.! You make the rest of us look stupid for keeping you in office. Please vote these idiots out next election.
Full steam ahead…..
yeah right says
They knew they didn’t own the property. I used to live over there and knew that much. The way I found out was a dispute with Papa Johns Pizza over the phone because of them refusing not to deliver passed certain boundary lines when they first opened up and Bulldog was the cutoff. My address was listed as Bunnell but was in Palm Coast City limits but because of Bulldog being situated the way it was it confused people. The City just wanted to wait as long as possible before they had to tell everyone how much money they were going to have to shift from something else to have to pay up to the county.
Concerned Citizen says
Good for Gus and his attorney. Maybe we should hire them as City Manager.
Since 1987 says
Just another street to load up with red light cameras. Soon the city will be installing them out in the county….
Why we can’t we only read here 6 of the total 23 responses, Pierre? Something not working right today?
All should watch the 3/4/14 council meeting specially in its last portion http://www.palmcoastgov.com/agendas/city-council/meeting/2449/city-council?video=true, to get acquainted of the residents perception of what is being swept under the rag every time they present a “consent agenda”. Better start looking on those and question them about it!
Right above the red banner that says “Leave a Reply” you can click a link for “Older Comments”
FB citizen says
ha ha ha ha ha! Just…ha ha ha ha
This is an instance where somebody(s) should be shown the door.
Both the town manager and the town attorney should be given the opportunity to explore the job market.
Florida Native. says
It’s no wonder people in other parts of the county hate Palm Coast and everybody in it.
Dennis McDonald says
The City knew full well the status of COUNTY ROAD 401 as the abuse of Gus has been on going for years. The City knew the County owned the portion against the the school boundary, why not the rest.
What we need to focus our BOCC members on is, DO NOT give up the property especially adjacent to the school. All of us know from personal experience that there is nothing worse than a bad neighbor !
The reason City Council, Netts, Landon and Reischman all had no response to whether there was a permit from the County on County land was that Landon had already taken out a permit from the City of Palm Coast for this work on Bull Dog.
This same “City Manager of the Year ” is going to hold an election ?
Worry not Mayor “Immeasurable” will be his Backup !
Opinions from the New Palm Coast.
Rick Belhumeur says
It has always been my understanding that you have to own land or have permission from the land owner to build on it. “Proof of ownership” must be provided before you can get a permit to build. The city can’t possibly have a proper permit to build on this property because they can’t prove ownership. So how can they be so arrogant to continue building without a permit?
Life in the Big City says
Was that you they were trying to intimidate with the lawsuit Dennis? Landon reportedly has a $400,000 legal intimidation budget Reischmann is more than willing to fatten his pockets with. Something tells me they are going to burn through that and much more in the next couple of years. And it’s all we the tax payer’s money. (Hello Netts? Is there anything going between your ears besides that hot temper of yours?)
Be careful or you could have more than a lawsuit on your hands. You could get accused of something that comes with criminal penalties and there are plenty of people in the city who don’t appreciate your honesty.
Is it Manfre who answers to Landon now or is it Mark Carmen? Or is it both of them who have to check in with the city before they serve and protect? What the literal hell is this town coming to with Landon and the less than desirable characters on the council running it with Mr. Angry Eyes Netts?
P C says
Manfre works fo Flagler not the city of PC. Does he have to a answer to them?
Where was the county all this time allowing their street to be changed by the city?
Correct Dennis, I ask myself the same question! If the city officials make these big mistakes intentionally or not and try or not to deceive time and time over again the city taxpayers via “consent agenda” to hide the truth, how could be expect them to run a city election? Of course can’t be trusted! Stop the drama get the mayor and Council to have State Attorney Bondi revise the mess you guys made in the 2011 referendum and after all approved then, have SOE Mrs. Weeks run our free of fraud city elections.
City Council, Mayor and administrator have used our city reserves dollars to pave over, improve county road and state right of ways spending millions of our tight funds, then rise our utility bills because those reserves are depleted. We continuo to be used as the milking cows forced paying for Taj Mahals. All for the sake of never ending improvements of access to the Town Center and other developments and their lawyers. Same thing done now in the P.C Parkway East to benefit the developer that bought Palm Harbor Mall. Then Councilman McGuire ostensibly emphasizes to his pleading constituents that he is supposed to represent that ” A lot of the residents I talk to think the city is omnipotent” Of course you are…just look at the years of lawsuits against Gus Ajram. and also that city hall we opposed by referendum and you all gave it a Yes! You are only powerless when you are requested to fight for the rights of the constituents that voted you in those seats! Just pathetic arrogance to remember in August.
Life in the Big City says
This ain’t politics. It’s a felony when you try to deceive the public from the positions they are all in. When are we all gonna stop talking about it and call the Governor’s office to restore order in this county?
Just another way to make Flagler county look like shit. Now what are they going to do if they can’t build the road. Looks like that dirt will just sit there. Good job Palm Coast.
Only in Florida
If anyone’s interested in what it takes to get a recall vote going (this would only work for local elected officials – hired positions [as in Jim Landon’s City Manager job] could only be affected this way if the mayor/council members refuse to release him) this link will tell you everything: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String&URL=0100-0199/0100/Sections/0100.361.html
Sandra Burstell says
My heart goes out to Gus and Coleen. They own the property. They spent a lot of money on attorney fees fighting for something that was theirs to begin with. Trying to keep a business above water in this economy is hard enough without all the stress Landon has put them through. I say take him to court and make him dig deep into his pockets to cover all previous attorney fees.
Barney Fyfe says
Palm Coast didn’t know that Bulldog Drive was a county road? You expect me to believe this? This is nothing more than a typical example from the corrupt Palm Coast City Council (and I dare say the County Commissioners). They knew exactly what they were doing, new all along that they didn’t own it, and was hoping that the illegal project would be completed before the truth came out. This is demonstrated by Landon working in “overdrive” to get the county to transfer the road to Palm Coast. Landon’s typical arrogance was displayed once again – “…Landon said: “I can’t imagine why the county would want this small strip of something that everybody has referred to as a city street…” Then, in a very subtle admission in the same comment that he knew what he was doing and knew all along that the county owned that road – “… and at least the county administration has indicated they’d be very willing to submit it (Bulldog Drive) to the city…” Liar Liar pants on fire! This is shameful and expected from these deceitful, disgraceful, lying, corrupt, pusillanimous politicians – Palm Coast City Council. The people you voted for!
Landon insists, once again dripping with arrogance and confidence from a dictator, “…that the revelation changes nothing in the contracting and timeline of the construction on Bulldog Drive. Nor will the project itself, whatever the outcome of the right-of-way, affect Ajram’s property…” Oh really? Folks, this is called encroachment. 8 feet here, 8 feet there and next thing you know they have their hand out collecting your keys to what was your front door.
I also have to ask where is the County Commissioners? Didn’t the city have to submit environmental studies to the county for review and approval before beginning this project? Are you telling me the county didn’t know either? With all the rules and regulations, I am asking because I don’t know, the bureaucracy (regulations at the local, county, state, federal level) being so many and deliberate, how is one supposed to be able to follow all the requirements to ensure we are not being snowballed at every level? And what could we do anyway… we are the little people.
This whole thing stinks to high heaven and really should garner State level attention for legal review and an in-depth investigation for corruption within the city and county governments. This isn’t even back door shenanigans. It is front door, in your face, we will do what we please strong arm tactics and thumbing their nose at us as they drive by in their limousines.
My observation and belief is that the county knew what was going on and is in cahoots with Palm Coast city government. Heck, the county is getting a sweet deal! New and improved road at the City’s expense and then the county would have been more than happy to transfer the completed new road to Palm Coast. One less thing to take care of. The public be [email protected]
So have any of our fine Landon puppets- I mean, City Council members stepped forward and addressed how they should respond to Mr. Landon’s embarrassing gross negligence?
Brian native says
Hey what can u say,pc is on the top ten of worst places to live in fl!
Thanks to all the northerns that moved here.yee haw to the real locals