Last updated: 7:12 p.m. Nov. 20. Originally posted: 11 a.m. Nov. 16, 2023.
Five years of legal wrangling between Captain’s BBQ and the Flagler County government is coming to an end.
The Flagler County Commission on Nov. 20 approved a settlement with the BBQ restaurant at the county-owned Bings Landing Park, agreeing to pay the restaurant up to $800,000 for past and future construction and renovation and let the restaurant build a larger, replacement building that is about double the size of its current one.
Before voting 5-0 to approve the settlement agreement, commissioners expressed concerns that going to trial could cost much more.
“There’s no getting around the fact that we would be at great risk if we go to trial,” County Commissioner Donald O’Brien said. “And I just keep thinking about our responsibilities to the taxpayers in terms of dollars expended and what kind of additional tax dollars we would be putting at risk for an extended trial and/or a loss. … This is one of those things where there is ... no good solution, and sometimes you have to make a choice out of some of the worst options.
Commissioners Leann Pennington and Andy Dance referred to a recent “shade meeting,” not open to the public, in which commissioners heard from the county’s legal team about the prospect of an upcoming trial.
“I’ve heard what we’ve said in our shade meeting, and I would not be your agreeing to this [agreement] if I didn’t think that if we were to go through a trial, we would be in a far greater losses,” Pennington said. “I think it’s been very clear to us, what we’ve been told. ... And I do believe that it is in the best interest of the taxpayers to stop the insanity and mediate.”
The commission also directed the county government to complete a management plan for Bings Landing before issuing a certificate of occupancy for the new restaurant building.
The BBQ restaurant, which operates from a county-owned building in Bings Landing, sued the county government in 2018 amid a dispute about how the county should handle purported damage to the existing restaurant building.
The commission voted 3-2 at a November 2018 meeting to approve a lease that would let the restaurant’s owners construct a larger restaurant building. But at the very next commission meeting, after new commissioners were sworn in, the commission voted 4-0 to reconsider its decision. The commission later decided to repair the structure unless repairs would exceed 50% of its value, in which case the county would build a new building. Captain’s BBQ sued.
The proposed settlement comes in the third round of mediation between the two sides.
It would let Captain’s BBQ build a 5,000-square-foot new restaurant building with up to 150 seats in Bings Landing, with the county government contributing up to $400,000 toward the construction and facilitating owner-direct, sales tax-exempt purchases of construction materials and equipment, according to the county government’s executive summary of the agreement.
The county would also reimburse Captain’s BBQ $400,000 for repairs to the current restaurant building, which is 2,274 square feet, according to Property Appraiser’s Office records.
Once it moved into its new building, Captain’s BBQ would lease the property for an initial cost of $3,000 per month, up from the current $980, with an annual escalation based on the Consumer Price Index. The lease would run for 20 years.
Captain’s BBQ would have the right to secure a liquor license and would have the exclusive right to sell bait and to all food and beverage sales in the park (except at county-sponsored events).
The new building would include “elements of coastal Old Florida architecture,” according to the news release, and would be constructed in a designated “peninsula” area of the park, near the boat launch.
“I think through thoughtful negotiations and commitment to finding that common ground, that both sides walk away with something that they can be proud of,” County Administrator Heidi Petito said. “There is no clear winner that would emerge, even through protracted litigation, but instead, we’ve put more of an emphasis on achieving an amicable resolution that serves the best interest of all stakeholders, including our public.”