Hurricane Matthew and the elections top the list.
As I consider the yearly tradition of ranking the top stories of 2016, I am left wondering about the definition of a “top story.” Is a story “top” because it got the most web clicks?
One story made it to the top of my list in part because of my personal experience with it: Hurricane Matthew forces evacuations. I evacuated with my family, and it was certainly a defining moment of the year. It was a time when my wife and I had to think about what was most important to us, what risks we were willing to take, what disruptions were worth enduring. It was a time when the news was truly part of our lives.
Here are my top 10 stories of the year:
1. Hurricane Matthew: evacuations and destruction
No one knows how many people actually evacuated, but when we had the mandatory order in certain zones of the county, it put a lot of things in perspective for people.
2. Hurricane Matthew: A1A
The saga of A1A — its destruction, reconstruction and economic impact — deserves its own spot on the Top 10 list. It’s a reminder that idyllic Flagler County isn’t immune from Mother Nature’s power.
3. Republicans sweep in November
Trump vs. Clinton was the hottest conversation of the year, and, locally, every single precinct in Flagler County voted for Trump. The Republican momentum likely gave a boost to Dave Sullivan, Donald O’Brien and Charlie Ericksen, all elected to the County Commission despite seemingly strong Democratic challengers.
Also, Milissa Holland, the daughter of a former City Council member, was elected to be the third mayor of Palm Coast.
4. Flagler County sheriff race
In the local political scene, the contest to be the next sheriff of Flagler County was the most hotly contested and the most crowded. Rick Staly outspent all competitors — and had the best resume — and will take over in January.
5. Real estate is back
Ever since the housing crash, Flagler County’s real estate market has been swamped with short sales and foreclosures — until now.
As a percentage of overall sales, “distressed” homes (short sales plus foreclosures) were almost 50% in 2012; that number has dropped to only 9% this year. As GoToby.com’s Toby Tobin put it, “Last year, we essentially ran out of distressed inventory. … The real estate market is back.”
The result is evident: In 2015, the median sale price was $171,000. In 2016, it’s $197,000 and climbing. So far in December, the median price is $232,000.
6. Marijuana on a roll
First, Sheriff Jim Manfre promoted a jail diversion program that would give officers the discretion to give a citation to someone caught with marijuana.
Then, medical marijuana was approved in a statewide amendmemt. Now, we’re waiting on the state Legislature to come up with regulations, and we could see medical marijuana for sale in Flagler County next year.
7. Holland Park delays
An unresponsive contractor situation was made worse by Hurricane Matthew. So, the city of Palm Coast fired the contractor and decided to finish the project in-house. Holland Park should open in early 2017, or about two years after renovations began.
8. Homeless in Palm Coast
Someone told me that Natasha Bennasr is more famous than Mayor Jon Netts in Palm Coast. Everyone, it seems, has seen her on benches and walking paths. A story about how she became homeless wound up as the No. 8 story of the year online.
9. Dunkin’ Donuts burns down
I’m listening to our readers on this one. Palm Coast residents love their donuts, apparently: The story about Dunkin’ Donuts burning down in July was the No. 2 story of the year on palmcoastobserver.com. Incidentally, it will be rebuilt on the same spot on Palm Coast Parkway.
10. Shots fired at kids playing 'Pokemon Go'
A man in Palm Coast made local and national news when he shot at the car of someone he thought was a prowler in his front yard. It turned out to be a couple of teenagers playing "Pokemon Go," prompting the Sheriff’s Office to send out safety tips for people playing the game.
Did I miss any top stories? How would you change the list? Email [email protected].