The joint local government committee of county and city representatives that met for the second time approached at arm’s length Palm Coast City Council member Theresa Pontieri’s proposal that Palm Coast annex into the city the county beach and access at Malacompra Road.
Pontieri first presented the idea to her council Tuesday, where the reception was surprise dewed in frost. With one tentative and possibly misinformed exception–from the Marineland mayor–it wasn’t any warmer at the joint committee. Few of the participants from the county and its five cities and towns were willing to weigh in, their silence speaking louder of their hesitation to touch this sudden emergence of a third rail between Palm Coast and the county than anything they might have said.
Joint Committee Chairman and County Commissioner Andy Dance at that committee’s meeting on Wednesday questioned whether there was consensus from the Palm Coast council to push the idea. There isn’t, but there was consensus on the council to allow the idea to be presented to the committee to gauge its receptivity. Nevertheless, there wasn’t complete rejection from the committee, at least not yet. The elected representatives on that committee don’t have the authority to accept or reject an idea without approval from their own full governing boards.
The most notable discussions in that regard will likely soon take place at the County Commission, which holds all the cards to annexation: The county would have to approve it. The commission is not especially stocked with individuals eager to surrender county assets to the city, nor is the administration disassociated from a sense of legacy and identity in such places as Malacompra park. County Administrator Heidi Petito, who was at the committee meeting, said in a brief interview outside the chamber that she doubted the idea would have legs from the county’s perspective. Dance’s guarded response was also a hint of the county’s coming response.
“Until the city actually formulates a proposal that has buy-in from all the members, we should probably just limit our input,” Dance said, all but echoing the same words Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin said on Tuesday, when he suggested to the council that it should hang fire before hearing from the joint committee. Meanwhile, the idea percolates.
Pontieri isn’t wedded to a single approach, or even to Malacompra Road. “I’m open to any ideas that would accomplish this end goal,” Pontieri said. “It’s an end goal of beach access for the residents of Palm Coast. So if there’s another mechanism to get there, I’m all ears.”
The next step, she said in an interview this morning, is to speak to the governments’ attorneys. “I need to maybe get with somebody in the county and talk to them about the different mechanisms that can be used, whether or not that’s a joint agreement, kind of like what the county has with Marineland for the River to Sea [Preserve],” Pontieri, herself an attorney, said. “Or if annexation is possible, and then come up with a more specific plan as to what that would look like. also reach out to stakeholders in the community and try to allay some of their concerns. I think what everybody is looking for is a more detailed plan that provides for certain deed restrictions, so that they can make sure that we preserve the integrity of Malacompra, which is what I think many people’s concerns are.”
Beyond the committee, the response to Pontieri’s idea so far, judging from comments on this site, on social media and beyond, has not been kind, and has not gone as far as the intricacies of restrictions or legalities. The response has focused on the idea of annexation, and Pontieri’s claim that the city is “entitled” to its own beach.
Flagler Beach unwittingly fueled the idea at the previous joint government meeting, which that city initiated, to discuss the crush of visitors and cars on Flagler Beach. The city needs relief. It asked Palm Coast and the county for help diverting visitors further north, on the unincorporated parts of the shore, as one way to alleviate the crush. (See: “Flagler Beach Achieves One Goal in Meeting With Other Governments: Agreement that the City Needs Help.”)
Pontieri seized on that to frame her idea as a way to help Flagler Beach, even though Malacompra Road is not a swimmable beach: its topography is more coquina rocks than sand, its attraction more appealing to sandaled rustics and romantics than to Speedo-slinked rompers and revelers. That, and the severing of the beach’s links to the county’s historical heritage, is what the county fears could be lost with a transformation of the park into a more visitor-intensive beach.
“The problem is right now, Palm Coast doesn’t have any vested interest in any shoreline without relying on a third party,” Pontieri said. “So we rely on Flagler Beach, we rely on the county for maintenance of parks, upkeep of parks, creating parks that are on the beach.” She said annexation could include deed restrictions and other measures to ensure that local residents and legacies are protected. “I wanted to be very clear that this wasn’t my effort to say we want to do a land grab. This is just an idea and initiative and I haven’t heard many other ideas out there of how we can spread people out on the beach, other than Well, let’s look at lifeguards and paid parking.”
Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Eric Cooley stayed away from discussion Malacompra itself, limiting himself to discussing Flagler Beach’s interests: how to have broader beach access, which is “in line with what our initiatives are,” he said. “It’s up to Palm Coast how to get there.” He said he appreciated Pontieri’s effort. “I don’t know anything about the nuts and bolts of it though.”