Even the most innocuous presentations can be revealing of political underpinnings and local-government egos almost entirely unrelated to the presentation. This morning’s presentation by the Florida National Guard about a planned $21 million facility that would be built south of State Road 100, on county land, certainly was.
The power-point presentation began with a patriotic slide fusing fuzzy shadows of Statue of Liberty and the national flag with these sharp, bold, white, capitalized words smack across the slide: “CITY OF PALM COAST ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TEAM.” Lt. Col. Mark Widener of the Florida National Guard and Landon gave credit to the county, but you got the clear impression that the city was the lead on bringing the battalion to Flagler. That would be news to the county, whose deputy administrator, Sally Sherman, has been leading that development recently along with County Administrator Craig Coffey and others.
The Guard is looking to relocate from its current Basin Street building in Daytona Beach, where it’s been for the past 21 years. Daytona Beach wants the Guard out of there as part of future development plans. But Volusia County proved incapable of providing a suitable alternate location for the Guard.
It was then-Deputy County Administrator Jim Jarrell who, in the fall of 2006, initiated the land offer in Flagler County. By May 2008, after County Administrator Craig Coffey prodded the National Guard to make a decision (the county having some designs for an industrial park in the area), the Guard wrote the county that it had settled on the 55-acre site as the best choice for what will be an 80,000-square-foot facility. Talks have continued since.
Palm Coast has been muscling in not just for a piece of the glory, but also to use the National Guard site as a stepping stone toward its annexation plans, which Landon spoke of at the very end of the presentation, when the council was all warmly fuzzied up. It was a classic Landon move, setting off what amounts to a political IED at the tail end of an otherwise unassailable presentation: “I have one more issue that you’re going to need to be aware of,” Landon said, “and that is—it won’t happen right now, but for the future, our policy is, if you want water and sewer, you have to annex, and so we’re going to have that issue come forth. We don’t need to deal with that right now, but traditionally the county has been fairly resistant to have the airport being annexed into Palm Coast, but this is going to generate that discussion, because I don’t have authorization to give water and sewer unless they annex first.”
The council, of course, could grant that authorization anytime it pleases, annexation or no annexation: local governments work out those deals all the time. And the bit about annexation may have been news to Netts who, at the council’s annual goal-setting session last May 25, had ensured that further annexations would no longer be part of the city’s goals. “I don’t see the need to increase the city’s boundaries beyond what we’ve got,” Netts had said. “Let’s not bite off more than we can chew. He did note that he wasn’t opposed to filling in gaps, but he didn’t want to “expand the outer rim.” Whether the airport property is rim or gap is open to interpretation, depending on which side of the border you happen to be: Geographically it is a county enclave surrounded by Palm Coast, but politically it is one of the markers of Flagler County’s identity.
Landon was putting the council–and the county–on notice that there will be a power-play ahead over that property. It might not be the first time that the county would roll-over and let Palm Coast devour what it will.
In this case, however, Coffey said late Tuesday that while the County Commission would decide the fate of the airport and the county property around it, it’s never been county policy to consider annexation, nor would be it be in the county’s interest. The airport itself would still belong to the county even if the land was annexed. But the city would then be able to layer all its codes, taxes and impact fees on the property, and limit the county’s flexibility in using the property. The county may not be opposed to ceding a small portion of the property, near the projected National Guard center, for a neighborhood park.