You won’t see it, but a yet another trench is deepening between Palm Coast government and the County Commission, this time over the proposed development of a small commercial strip called Airport Commons. The development is planned along State Road 100 and at the edge of the county airport, one of the boundaries between city and county that form a political San Andreas Fault Line between the two governments.
The development of a few shops on 4 acres hangs in the balance, with a developer already disenchanted enough with the city’s hard line that he may just walk away, a blow to county economic development efforts. But if the battle is focused on the development, both sides are pulling all their legal stops because they see the outcome as defining their rights—the city’s right to annex or levy fees on properties that seek its services on its periphery, the county’s right to resist annexation and stand by property owners who want to remain on county land.
The issue goes even further: the fault line is unraveling brewing conflicts between city and county that affect not just a development on a city corner, but could potentially affect every resident in the county, especially in emergencies: the building of a new emergency communications network. The two governments are supposed to cooperate on that project based on a 2009 joint agreement. Palm Coast is not holding up its end of the deal, the county claims. And there’s a further issue brewing in the Hammock over a city waterline the city is supposed to move there to help with a drainage project, and money the city owes. It’s not done either, according to the county.
So a lot more than a development is at stake. County and city identities are, as are their authority, as are egos: City Manager Jim Landon and County Administrator Craig Coffey are on either sides of the battle. Landon defined his version of the battle by framing it to the city council last month as a question of sticking by the rules. If the county wasn’t willing, the city should sue. Landon got the council to go along with the threat, even though the city heard only a one-sided interpretation: Landon, who’s known for presenting only the evidence he likes. (One of the more startling moments of today’s meeting was a statement by Charlie Faulkner, the developer’s representative, who said Landon misrepresented him in an April 5 email to the city council. “It has to do with liars lying,” Faulkner said, assuring his audience that he was trying to stay professional. “But I’ve been called essentially a liar. I’ve never had anybody call me a liar in over 40 years of my development career, and I didn’t take it very well.”)
The county administrator today responded in detail at a special meeting of the county commission, and without city voices present. He gave Landon as good as he got, the 90-minute presentation ending with a unanimous vote by the commission that essentially dares the city to sue: the county is willing to do battle, but would rather mediate the issue.
So the formal resolution concludes with mediation first. But only after five and a half pages of whereas-type recitals that accuse the city on two occasions of making “blatantly false” statements, alludes to dishonesty on two other occasions, blame the city for not holding up its end of formal agreements, blame it for potentially losing the developer, and providing a brisk history lesson whose subtext seemed to be that the city either has a short or flawed memory, or is intentionally choosing to reinvent the past and moving goal posts.
“Annexation is really the domino that triggers all of those other items,” Coffey told commissioners. “We’re not trying to pick a fight with the city,” Coffey said. “We have issues too to protect,” meaning county and property rights interests.
The two governments have been there before, namely in 2007 and 2010. A 2007 settlement agreement, signed the same year Landon and Coffey each took their jobs locally, was supposed to end the conflict. It has only served as a map to the fault line, not as its bridge.
In yet another attempt to resolve conflict in 2015, the two governments agreed to a “Joint Development Review Area” in the region surrounding the airport on three sides. Both governments get to review and make recommendations on development proposals, but the recommendations are not binding except for the government that has jurisdiction on the property in question.
The two sides implemented that system regarding the Airport Commons property. There was good will on both sides and all items were worked out, according to Coffey, with one exception: the transportation impact fees the city levies on all new developments within the city. Revenue from the fees is intended to defray the cost of the “impact” of new development, such as the need for roads. If the Airport Commons developer were in the city limits, he would have to pay $180,000 in impact fees, not including other required costs. To him, that breaks the viability of his development. That, among other reasons, is why he wanted to stay out of the city to start with.
The county doesn’t require transportation impact fees, nor do Flagler Beach or Bunnell—at least not at the moment. They did away with the fees during the Great Recession, to spur development. If the county doesn’t impose them, a developer building in the county should not pay them, Coffey said.
The city offered a solution: let the county sewer line from the airport provide sewer service to Airport Commons, the same way the sewer line currently provides that service to the Chamber of Commerce building in the next block, along State Road 100. Whether the city or the county services the properties in the area with water, the city gets its money for the water, plus a 25 percent mark-up, since it’s outside the city limits. So the city would make money on the deal.
As Coffey presented it to the commission today, the negotiations had gone well enough to conclude that whatever issues remained to be worked out could be included in a pre-annexation agreement and presented to the Palm Coast City Council for review, with input from the county at whatever meeting the issue was to be discussed.
That’s not how Landon and City Attorney Bill Reischmann presented the matter to the county on April 10. Instead, Landon submitted a proposed resolution—which the council approved, without a vote—that threatens litigation against the county if Flagler goes forward with the development, absent agreement on payment of the impact fees. The city then submitted what Coffey described as a “sweeping” public records request for any imaginable communication relating to the Airport Commons property and anyone involved in it.
Coffey felt ambushed. “I characterize this as a discovery type thing as you prepare for litigation,” Coffey said. “It’s a very aggressive public records request.”
County Attorney Al Hadeed said the request will be honored, but he wondered what it had to do with mediation. “This kind of public records request doesn’t signal to me an interest in mediation,” he said, describing himself as “taken aback”: when he read it. “There are ways to mediate, and there are ways to not mediate. This is not one of those tools when you’re attempting to resolve issues. That’s why I want you to get the full flavor of the attitude that’s reflected in this request.”
The resolution the county drafted and the commission approved today was not without its own form of counter-attitude, including at least four “whereas” clauses where the city, the city manager or the resolution he and the city attorney drafted are essentially described as contradictory, misleading, or making “blatantly false” statements, words used twice in the recitals. And in one case, the county’s recitals also call out the city’s resolution for a legally incorrect reference—the parry of one lawyer dueling another, as if to let him know the limits of presumption.
That’s before getting to the heart of the legal matter: the 2007 annexation settlement agreement controlling contentious annexation issues where the county and the city limits meet. The agreement recognizes the right of the city to annex properties that seek water and sewer service. But it also excludes properties from having to comply with that condition, and does so in several regions, including the Hammock, the airport, and areas around the airport. The agreement was tested in 2010, when the city tried to annex an area at the south end of the airport before allowing for water and sewer lines to serve the coming National Guard facility there. The city was rebuffed, the county prevailed, as did the 2007 settlement.
If Palm Coast has been going ballistic in “weaponizing utilities,” as county officials have become fond of saying recently when faced with such conflicts, the settlement agreement is its anti-ballistic missile.
“The city may wish it said something else,” Coffey said. But the words to him are clear: they spell out boundaries where the city may and may not annex, even where it’s compelled to provide services. The Airport Commons property falls in a zone where the city may not annex, according to the county’s reading of the settlement. The city sees it differently. It excludes that property from its reading of the agreement.
Coffey today needed the special meeting to formalize his response to the city, to potentially arrange for a joint meeting between the county and the city elected officials if necessary, but also to set his version of the record straight, and attempt to come out still looking more magnanimous than the city.
The county’s resolution “doesn’t authorize litigation, it authorizes mediation,” Coffey said. But he had little hopes for mediation’s success.
“The city wishes to control this corridor, would like to compel this annexation and has plans, but just because I wish it or I desire it to be that way doesn’t mean I have the right to compel that, and that’s the difference between what the words say and don’t say. And that’s where I’m not sure we’re going to reach a compromise, because we have a basic disagreement that’s complete opposites of forced annexation.”
We don’t need more gas stations and gift shops. Where are the industrial jobs? Where is the chamber during this battle?
The City of Palm Coast, where brain cells go to die.
Ben Hogarth says
Jim Landon is indeed, once-again misrepresenting the issue to his rather uninformed and unwise council. Even in reading Attorney General opinion pieces, it becomes evident that while municipalities are not required to provide service to areas outside their municipal boundaries, the City also cannot force acceptance of annexation as a prerequisite to providing such municipal services. What the City can do however, is refuse to provide service to any area outside its boundaries. There is a distinction here because any annexation must fall within the requirements of Chapter 171 F.S. and cannot be a “requirement” for any parcel of land.
With this said, it is also abundantly clear in a Florida Law that annexation agreements (including settlements) that meet and/or exceed the requirements of Chapter 171 F.S. also prevail and therefore must be honored by both parties. From what can be gathered by this ongoing saga, Palm Coast continues to abridge the recitals identified in that annexation / service agreement with the county.
Forced annexation within the context of a signatory requirement for service hookup is on its face, illegal. If such wording were skewed to state that the serviced property owner understands that it may face an annexation proceeding in the future… one could look the other way. However, utilizing that document as a means of providing total authority to proceed with annexation does not conform to state law.
I was made aware of such issues when I served on the Marineland Commission and what I said then is still true today – annexation cannot be forced on a serviced area that does not meet chapter 171. Jim Landon went rogue on this long ago. It needs to end.
Trailer Bob says
Traffic is already so bad on 100 that you would most likely die before you could drive to Flagler Hospital if you had chest pains. Does Palm Coast really want to end up like the mess of a bunch of concrete and traffic jams like they have built up to in Daytona?
Old Hammock says
Hasn’t Palm Coast developed enough of Flagler County? They have RUINED a once pristine place to live. I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be the last, but they have turned Flagler County into a cesspool. No different than South Florida.
Palm Coast’s Jim Landon., and Flagler Counties Greg Coffey just don’t get it. Darn shame we the VOTERS can’t replace these two . Why can’t their jobs be one that’s voted on by the voters of those they are supposed to support. and represent. Maybe they only represent their own personal ambition for greatness at another political level. We need a change.
Toby Tobin says
I attended yesterday’s BOCC Special Meeting. Flagler Live’s portrayal of the meeting and underlying facts are accurate in my opinion. I’ll add that in a May 1 letter, Coffey alerted Landon of the county’s May 7 Special Meeting and invited the city to attend. As Flagler Live notes, the city did not attend.
The city did attend an April 18th county Technical Review Committee meeting that addressed the Airport Commons project where an individual representing the city attorney’s office verified that the project review was in the correct jurisdiction, namely the county (per the 2015 Interlocal Agreement).
The 2007 Settlement Agreement is vaguely written. The city has had two separate occasions to clarify the agreement language; the Palm Coast Plantation lawsuit (which the city did not win) and the 2015 Interlocal Agreement in which the National Guard parcel was not annexed into the city. In my opinion, the scale of facts heavily favors the county’s position.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL CITY AND COUNTY—WHERE ARE OUR STATE REPRESENTATIVES WHEN WE NEED THEM? THIS COUNTY IS IN SELF DESTRUCTION MODE AND SOME INVESTIGATING AND AUDITS NEED TO BE DONE ASAP. TOO MUCH OF OUR TAX DOLLARS ARE BEING MISMANAGED AND COFFEY AND LANDON ARE OUT OF CONTROL AND HAVE TOO MUCH AUTHORITY.
no high paying jobs just 8.00 per hour low wage job stop you crooked
politicians you make enough money what about our younger generation
they all leave here because there are only restaurants where people are
getting fatter and fatter and banks for the well to do elite in the hammock
what a shame i also left out the over abundance of police when you
see them the majority are over weight how do they chase criminals
being so overweight what a disgrace.wake up there are no good jobs
in the area.
The property in question is literally surrounded by the city of Palm Coast. It is supported by City infrastructure and utilities. The County’s call for compromise, means they expect the city to accept their position. Take the disagreement to court and let a disinterested third party solve the problem.
$180,000 for a water hookup seems a little excessive…. Maybe why Palm Coast has been so slow to develop?
Apartments and strip malls ohhh boy
Knows Jack says
If this is about the cost to the developer, should the property seller lower his price and eat the $180,000 if the buyer will not pay it? The seller most likely knew access to the the City service would require annexation and all that comes with it!
Concerned Citizen says
Why do we need more shops that no one buys from? And why do we need more gas stations? Why not find something different to put there?
Or here’s a wild thought. Why not leave the greenery? Why is it that every parcel of land has to have something on it? They’ve gutted huge tracts of land on the West side of US1 and nothing has been done for years.
State Road 100 has become so over developed it takes an extra 30 minutes to negotiate traffic these days. Leave us some trees to look at.
The city bitches and moans when you want to take down a single tree for a specific reason but they O.K. acres and acres of defoliation for more shit construction,A 10th Mcdonalds or some some other crap.Enough already.
Old Hammock says
HEY DEVELOPERS!!! The consensus is leave what little green space we have leftover in this once beautiful county alone. A lot of great points to read here.
But no, this too will fall on deaf ears because it isn’t about what’s right, it’s about who will line there pockets with more money.
Developers are no different than politicians. They are both money & power driven crooks.
Knows Jack says
Is the seller of the property an ….drum roll please…. elected official?
JUST Me says
my two cents first why did NOT the city annex this property LONG ago that is surrounded by the city of PC????? They wait till it is being developed then want the HIGHER tax dollars it would bring. Next why do so many think they should be the deciding voice on what is built on privet lands?? If you don’t want it developed BUY it yourself or get local Government to BUY it for parklands.
If the developer refuses to pay impact fee’s than find property outside the city to develop. City taxpayers do not need or want additional tax burdens this development will cost the city. Do we really need more retail space on Rt. 100?
Development at what cost ?