Monday, July 23, 2012

Commercial Developer Sues Currituck County Over 4x4 Beaches

It comes as no major surprise but it has finally made its way to court.  Swan Beach Corolla LLC, figureheaded by Chip Friedman, is suing Currituck County over its refusal to allow commercial development on the 4x4 area of the Outer Banks.  Cindy Beamon of the Daily Advance has the latest below.

Currituck sued on Carova development limits

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CURRITUCK — Officials’ resolve to ward off commercial development on the remote northern Outer Banks beaches will face a challenge in court.

Developers filed a lawsuit this month charging they already have county permission to build businesses in Carova beach, although the county is opposed to it.

Swan Beach Corolla LLC claims a plat with commercial lots was approved four decades ago, but the county has since reneged. The complaint filed July 6 in Currituck Superior Court seeks to reverse the county’s recent denial of plans for a 290-unit inn and nearby offices and stores on 37 acres in the off-road community.

The lawsuit claims the county rezoned six commercial lots decades ago without notifying the owners who purchased the property in 1966. Despite the rezoning, the county still billed the property owners as if the lots were zoned for business use, the lawsuit claims.

Developers apparently tried to remedy the problem several years ago by asking the county to restore the lots’ previous zoning.

Since 2004, Developer Charles “Chip” Friedman and other business owners who brought the suit have sought three times to rezone six lots originally zoned for commercial development.

After two failed attempts, Swan Beach Corolla, originally operating as Ocean Associates, started legal proceedings in 2008 but later backed down.

In May, Currituck’s Board of Commissioners voted for the third time to deny Friedman’s rezoning request, this time to build a cluster of cottage suites and businesses, including a convenience store, offices and a wedding chapel.

The decision upheld a 30-year-old county policy to restrict commercial development on Currituck’s northernmost beaches.

Carova-area, off-road residents protested the project would open the door for more business growth in an area ill-equipped to handle it. The remote beaches that begin at Mile Post 13 have no paved roads and no central water or sewer.

Friedman, however, charged the county already turned a “blind eye” to illegal businesses operating in the off-road community. His complaint prompted an inspections sweep last year of the off-road area to determine if any illegal businesses were operating in the mostly residential zoning district. The suit claims businesses, including a septic tank company, heavy equipment company, storage warehouse and mining operations continue to operate in the off-road community.

The suit pointed to other developments where businesses have been allowed to develop. Ocean Sands and Whalehead subdivisions have real estate offices and restaurants even though they are zoned R-02, the same as the Carova properties, the suit claims.

During the 1970s, the county told developers that projects approved before new zoning laws would be “grandfathered,” the lawsuit claims.

“County representatives continued to represent to property owners that subdivisions approved prior to regulations would be grandfathered and could be built with their original approvals,” the suit reads.

The suit claims the Swan Beach Corolla properties are being singled out for enforcement of the “no commercial” policy.

The county allows developers to build 23-bedroom beach houses — that some people call hotels — the suit stated. The mega houses, equipped with 91-seat dining rooms and industrial-size kitchens, are granted permits, but the plaintiffs were denied permission to build an inn, the suit states.

“Allowing these extremely large homes to operate for business and commercial purposes as hotels in the R-02 District but to deny plaintiffs the right to operate an inn is purposeful discrimination,” the suit charges.

The lawsuit also claims the plaintiffs had already made “substantial expenditures” toward developing the commercial properties before the county rezoned them.

Developers would not have spent $425,000 in roads, ditches and engineering work in the early 1970s if they had known the county would rezone the property, the suit states.

The county has not yet filed an answer to the complaint.