PALM COAST, FL – August 7, 2015 – In a Special Meeting yesterday, the Flagler Beach City Commission voted to lodge an appeal of Flagler County’s land use change that will allow Sea Ray to build an employee parking lot on land south of its boat manufacturing facility.
The special meeting was necessitated by the short window allowed to appeal the zoning change. While the Commission’s authority to act is not in question, their motive is. So too is their grasp of the fiduciary responsibility borne by elected officials.
In a nutshell, some Flagler Beach residents have made it their mission to become anti-Sea Ray activists. They have objected for years about the styrene emissions originating from the plant. Yet, the plant has NEVER been cited for emissions beyond their permitted level. The plant is subject to frequent inspections, many resulting from complaints by a few residents of Lambert Avenue, which adjoins Sea Ray’s property.
When the Sea Ray plant began operations in 1982 there was only one home on North Lambert near the plant. The complaining neighbors chose to build next to the plant, rendering their protestations moot, in my opinion.
City Attorney, Drew Smith, made four important points at the beginning of the meeting.
- Flagler Beach was a landowner in Flagler County. Thus, it had standing to file an appeal of the rezoning.
- In an appeal, the legislative body, in this case Flagler County, has the advantage. In lay terms, “in a tie, Flagler Beach will lose.” He further explained that the city would have to reach “a high bar” to prevail.
- The merits of arguments pros or cons regarding emissions were not a part of Flagler County’s rezoning decision. Thus, they will not be considered in the appeal. The appeal must restrict its argument to the county’s rezoning and Comprehensive Plan.
- City Planner, Larry Torino, had compiled reasons why he believed the county had acted contrary to their own Comprehensive Plan, in other words, the foundation of the appeal. However, the Torino was not in attendance to reveal the merits of his analysis to the Commission.
Commission Chair Marshall Shupe invited public input, asking citizens to avoid mention of emissions and environmental concerns since they were beyond the scope of the appeal. Yet, individual after individual came to the podium loaded with environmental ammunition. Their arguments were not new. They had been served up in the several Flagler County Planning & Development Board and County Commission hearings that led to the land use change. Shupe made no effort to keep the comments on point, allowing several to exceed the three minute time limit.
Only a few spoke in opposition to the appeal. Bill Mills, a Lambert Avenue resident, and Lea Stokes, who both lives and owns a business in Flagler Beach asked about the expected cost of filing an appeal and the probability of a successful outcome. Their questions went unanswered.
Palm Coast resident and Former Palm Coast City Councilman, David Ferguson, suggested that the growth in tourism in Flagler Beach and the rest of the county, evidenced by the steady increase in bed tax revenues, proves that the Sea Ray Plant is not a deterrent to tourism. Ferguson was derided by the audience. Palm Coast residents’ opinions was not welcome in Flagler Beach. However, environmental and property value claims by two other outsiders (one from St. Augustine and the other from Palm Coast Plantation) were greeted with appreciative applause.
North Lambertonians Don Deal and Roseanne Stocker were back again with their environmental and loss of property value arguments. Both built houses on Lambert Ave. when the Sea Ray plant already existed. According to Flagler County Property Appraiser records, Deal’s home has appreciated 18.0% over the past two years. Stocker’s home has appreciated 22.1% over the same period. (Ouch! I feel their pain.)
The final vote was 3-2 in favor of a motion to go forward with an appeal with Steve Settle, Jane Mealy and Kim Carney voting for, and Marshall Shupe and Joy McGrew against.
The Flagler Beach residents at the meeting did not want to hear outsiders telling Flagler Beach what to do. This from a city dependent on tourism. “Come eat at our restaurants but leave your opinions at home.”
City Commissioners do not know the foundation of the appeal except in broad terms. They do not know the potential costs of the appeal. And they do know that the prognosis of the outcome except for the statement from their own attorney that they would have a “high bar” to meet. There was lots of talk about environmental issues, property values and the importance of tourism, but absolutely none about of the merits of the appeal. They charge forward at the same time that they have an admitted revenue problem.
Flagler Beach breached its fiduciary responsibility at the same time they thumbed their noses at Sea Ray and Flagler County residents. They are entering uncharted waters with not a clue as to where they are headed.