Citizens, potential home buyers, and tourist speak their minds.
More than 50 people attended a special meeting of the Flagler Beach City Commission, during the middle of the day, on Thursday, Aug. 6. Most were there to encourage the commission members to challenge Flagler County's decision to allow Sea Ray to build a 24-acre parking lot.
Despite Chairman Marshall Shupe's opening comments, explaining the challenge was directed at Flagler County making changes to their comprehensive plan, not Sea Ray, the comments all echoed statements made at the county commission meeting earlier in the week.
“We are not dealing with any of the other concerns people have. We know about those and what we need to do now is hear from the public,” Shupe said.
Not all of the commissioners wanted to spend taxpayer money to pursue a case, because there is doubt they can win, and the vote to proceed only passed 3-2 to take the challenge to the state level.
City Attorney, Drew Smith told the commissioners that the “deck was stacked” against them, and that if they decided to file the challenge, the process would be compressed and quickly resolved.
“We can make the argument that we have standing,” Smith said. “It would be us challenging, as a property owner in the county, not as a jurisdiction.”
No representatives from Sea Ray spoke at the meeting, but Jane Mealy referred to, a letter to Flagler Beach, published in the media.
Commissioner Joy McGrew, one of the "no" votes, referred to it as a “done deal,” and said she would rather save any money this would cost in the event Sea Ray made moves to expand in the future. Shupe also voted "no."
Public comment came passionately, as most continued to speak about air quality and the effect on the economy and tourism.
Two speakers from out of town, approached the commission. One, Ken Bryan, who was the St. Johns County Commission Chairman until his defeat in 2012, said he and his wife were considering purchasing a home on Lambert, until he did his research. He is now having second thoughts, because of what he has learned about the “increased emissions,” and because his wife is a cancer survivor, and his concern for her welfare.
The second non-resident was Lea Atiq, vacationing from Skokie, Illinois who said she had been vacationing in the area for seven years, but was now considering finding another place to vacation.
Former Palm Coast City Council member, David Ferguson questioned whether the city would like Sea Ray to shut down.
“I've never smelled the styrene, but I am not going to dispute whether some people can smell it,” he said.
He did ask, if the plant was in operation, when those complaining purchased their homes, noting that Sea Ray has been operating in that location for 30 years.
Bill Mills, the founder of Wings Over Flagler, and a Flagler Beach resident, questioned spending the money it would take to challenge the decision, and said they should keep the press on Sea Ray, to make sure promises were kept.
“Let's make sure we are spending the money wisely and in areas we know we can fight, and where we can keep them in check,” he said.
Lea Stokes, a former member of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce executive board, questioned why the cost of the challenge to taxpayers had not been addressed.
The meeting, which lasted an hour and 15 minutes, became almost a social event toward the end, as residents chatted among themselves, and munched on snacks. In the end the majority of those in attendance ruled, and the challenge will proceed.