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Palm Coast Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 7 months ago

Developers sue Flagler Beach candidate over 'defamation' in Gardens protest

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The Sunbelt companies criticized by Ken Bryan are not the developers of The Gardens.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Two land companies have sued two Flagler County residents — including a Flagler Beach City Commission candidate — for defamation, after the residents made comments to protest a proposed housing development called The Gardens, on John Anderson Highway, in Flagler Beach.

The suit, filed by Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant, claims $30,000 in damages and demands a jury trial.

The two companies are Sunbelt Holdings Florida I LLC, of Nevada; and its parent company, Sunbelt Land Management LLC, of Delaware.

The named defendant, Ken Bryan, is a former St. Johns County Commissioner and is now running for Flagler Beach City Commission. (Another defendant is listed as Jane Doe but has not been identified.)

Bryan declined to comment until he had more time to examine the lawsuit, which was filed, but not yet served to him, on Feb. 4.

The suit states that Bryan attended a meeting on Nov. 7, hosted by a not-for-profit corporation called Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek Inc. At the meeting, the crowd of 100 discussed concerns they had with the proposed Gardens development.

At that point, Bryan explained to the crowd his experience with Sunbelt Holdings, which had been proposing to develop the Gun House Road property in St. Johns. According to Bryan, the company had clear cut the “entire property … after all the county employees had left.” Sunbelt Holdings was fined, but, Bryan said, “That’s just the cost of doing business.”

In other words, the lawsuit alleges, Bryan was leading the crowd to believe that Sunbelt Holdings had “thwarted government scrutiny,” “purposefully engaging in illegal activity.”

Jane Doe added that this was Sunbelt Holdings’ “mode of operation.”

In reality, the land was not clear-cut, according to the lawsuit.

Moreover, the Sunbelt companies are not directly connected with The Gardens on John Anderson Highway. The Gardens development is being proposed by a third company, Palm Coast Intracoastal LLC. All three are publicly represented by Ken Belshe, but they are separate entities.

And yet, both Bryan and Jane Doe made their comments after claiming to have done a great deal of research, and they did so with the intent to injure the reputation of the two Sunbelt companies, according to the lawsuit. The statements were made “in bad faith” and were slanderous, the lawsuit says.

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