Palm Coast City Council member Theresa Carli Pontieri said she wants the record to be clear: Her idea to annex Mala Compra Park to the city stems from a desire to help Flagler Beach with its overcrowded beaches and give Palm Coast residents beach access. It is not a land grab, she said.
“Annexation isn’t the only option,” Pontieri said. “I’m not opposed to some type of joint ownership between the county and the city.”
Mala Compra Park is a Flagler County government park. Pontieri pitched the idea to her fellow council members at a Sept. 12 City Council meeting, and to Flagler County’s municipalities at a joint workshop on Sept. 13.
“This intention is simply to improve a beautiful piece of land into what could be a really nice amenity and park that is currently, in my opinion, not being optimized in its utilization,” Pontieri told the Observer.
Pontieri told the Observer she has been reaching out to groups and communities in the Hammock area that would be directly impacted by an annexation, trying to allay any concerns ahead of time. Almost all of the land surrounding Mala Compra cannot be developed, she said.
“We want to preserve its integrity, and we want to improve it. And this would accomplish so many different things,” Pontieri said. “We could really turn Mala Compra into a beautiful beach.”
In June, Flagler Beach asked the county’s municipalities to come together for a joint workshop to address infrastructure concerns that the county — and Flagler Beach in particular — is facing due to projected population growth.
Flagler Beach Commission Chair Eric Cooley said Flagler Beach is ill-equipped to handle that influx.
Cooley said the population increase is a countywide problem, since many of the county’s residents and tourists are coming directly to Flagler Beach, and not to the rest of the county’s shoreline.
County Commissioner David Sullivan presented data from a 2020 survey created by the county’s Tourism Development Council. In 2020, 80% of tourists went to Flagler Beach.
The purpose of the joint meetings, Cooley said, is to brainstorm ideas to address infrastructure concerns for the whole county and figure out how to draw beachgoers to the county’s other beaches, spreading out the crowd.
The commissioners and council members discussed drawing people to other beaches by using better marketing and potentially adding more lifeguards. Pontieri said annexing Mala Compra to Palm Coast so the city could manage and improve it could be another way.
The idea received mixed responses, both from the Palm Coast City Council and from other representatives at the joint workshop.
We could really turn Mala Compra into a beautiful beach.” — Theresa Carli Pontieri, Palm Coast City Council member
Palm Coast City Council member Ed Danko said he was concerned about the response of residents in the Hammock who might be impacted by the annexation. Hammock residents are very protective of the area, he said.
“I’d have to see a lot more to move forward with this,” Danko said.
Flagler beach representatives Cooley and City Commissioner Scott Spradley said at the Sept. 13 workshop that they supported the effort and concept as a way to help overcrowding problems, though Cooley said he wasn’t sure about the “nuts and bolts” of the idea.
“It’s up to Palm Coast how to get there,” Cooley said.
County Commissioners Andy Dance and Sullivan expressed almost no reaction, except to defer the issue for when Palm Coast came together to pitch a more solid plan.
“I think until the city actually formulates a proposal that has buy-in from all the members, we should probably just limit our input,” Dance said.
But Pontieri was not deterred. She told the Observer that people don’t understand the gravity of the situation Flagler Beach is facing, both now and in the coming years.
She said will continue reaching out to community organizations involved and then work with the city’s legal staff and the county government to figure out the best path forward.
“If we don’t jump on board with trying to find ways to address it, now we’re going to be in a much tighter and more unfortunate situation,” she said. “Annexation is free; entering into a joint ownership agreement with the county is free. And then we just spend money on improving the park.”