The county removed the issue from the May 6 commission agenda, and has not rescheduled it.
The County Commission had planned to discuss the future of Captain's BBQ at Bings Landing park the morning of Monday, May 6, but that didn't happen: The Friday before the meeting, the county administration announced that it was removing that matter from the meeting agenda.
"I don't believe that the two parties are going to get exactly what they want, but the taxpayers may."
— JERRY CAMERON, county administrator
"The Board of County Commissioners had instructed me to come back with two definitive options, and both sides retreated from their previous stated positions," County Administrator Jerry Cameron said.
The restaurant has a lease with the county to operate in Bings Landing, a county-owned park, that runs through 2026. But the current, county-owned building housing the restaurant is in disrepair, and the county has determined that it makes more sense to demolish it and build a new one than to repair the current structure. The county also believes it would be breaching its lease, and vulnerable to a lawsuit, if it removes Captain's from the park or makes it impossible for the restaurant to operate — as would be the case if the county tries to rebuild the current restaurant building in place, since that would mean displacing the business during construction. That dilemma has led the county to look for alternate sites within the park, arousing concerns from community members who don't want the restaurant to expand and eat up more park space or impede recreation. Residents, represented by the Hammock Community Association, have protested repeatedly against any expansion, particularly a proposal by Captain's to increase its seating to 150, a threshold that would let the restaurant more easily obtain a liquor license to add a full bar.
Still, until recently, the county had options — two of them. Previously, Cameron said, the proposed solutions had been as follows:
Option 1: Captain's had been willing to build a new building at its own expense, with the county not contributing anything, on a patch of reclaimed land that now contains a pavilion. The building would then be turned over to the county. This option would have allowed Captain's to expand from 98 seats to 150.
Option 2: The county would build a new facility for Captain's, approximating its current footprint — without an expansion to 150 seats — on the same patch of reclaimed land.
But on April 12, Captain's BBQ, through attorney Casey Arnold, sent the county a letter stating that the restaurant, if it builds a new building at its own expense, will not agree to pay for sewer and water connections. The same letter warned the county of the possibility that Captain's, if it's displaced, might have a case if it decides to sue the county for loss of future business. And it states that the county can not simply rescind a lease it approved with Captain's, through a 3-2 County Commission vote, in November, even though the county had voted to reconsider that matter just two weeks later after an election changed the composition of the commission. That November lease had allowed for an expansion to 150 seats. Arnold's letter removed Option 1 from consideration, Cameron said.
Meanwhile, the Hammock Community Association, which had previously backed Option 2, expressed reservations about the location for the proposed new building.
The county communicated with both sides until late Friday afternoon, Cameron said, but it became clear they weren't reaching a resolution. So the agenda item was removed.
"I did not want to put the board, and the community, through that when there was no viable outcome," he said. Ultimately, he said, there are three entities involved: Captain's, the Hammock Community Association, and the taxpayers — who, he said, would benefit most from the solution that's the least expensive for the county and least likely to invite litigation. "I do not believe that the two parties are going to get exactly what they want," Cameron said. "But the taxpayers may."