Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Development activity at Freeman Park causes confusion for town and Army Corps of Engineers

It's not the first time the owners of the property along Freeman Park have taken action that caught Carolina Beach and other government bodies off guard.

Photos taken by a resident show tracks and some clear indications of development preparations at the north end of Freeman Park (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)
Photos taken by a resident show tracks and some clear indications of development preparations at the north end of Freeman Park (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)

CAROLINA BEACH — The fate of the property north of the Town of Carolina Beach, typically referred to as Freeman Park (even though it is technically private property and not part of the park) remains unknown after private developers bought up the majority of the privately owned property over the past few years.

But over the summer, one eagle-eyed resident noticed something that looked like the beginnings of development taking place at the north end of the park.

In July, a resident sent photos to Mayor of Carolina Beach Joe Benson he took at Freeman Park showing an earth-moving vehicle like a Bobcat moving sand into estuaries and waterways at the park.

More photos of development activity taking place at Freeman Park (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Carolina Beach)
More photos of development activity taking place at Freeman Park (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Carolina Beach)

Emails between Benson, Layton Bedsole with the New Hanover County Engineering Department, and Jim Medlock with the United States Corps of Engineers (USACE) all point to confusion as to what exactly was taking place at Freeman Park.

Benson told Port City Daily that it turns out property owners had privately dredged sand and placed on their property at Freeman Park, but the USACE and the town were in the dark with what was happening.

At the time of the incident, Benson was unsure if the work being completed was permitted through the Department of Environmental Quality — the organization that issues Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permits.

A CAMA permit granted to land owners shows permission to construct a fence on the property at Freeman Park, but says nothing about filling in waterways. (Port City Daily/Courtesy NCDEQ)
A CAMA permit granted to landowners shows permission to construct a fence on the property at Freeman Park, but says nothing about filling in waterways. (Port City Daily/Courtesy NCDEQ)

When asked about work taking place at Freeman Park by Benson, the DEQ told him that the landowners did have a permit to do some work — but when Port City Daily requested the CAMA permit, it was for the construction of nearly 3,000-feet of sand fencing. It did not say anything about using dredging materials to fill in the property.

This is not the first time property owners at Freeman Park have caused disruption through their actions. In February, the town was forced to close access to the park because of a rope fence and sea oat plantings they alleged were installed without permission.

Related: Freeman Park: A timeline of recent events

The town, in turn, notified the property owners that it was intent on purchasing the property for the purpose of maintaining greenspace and parks, and threatened eminent domain if the owners refused to sell.

Eventually, the town rescinded the eminent domain threat with the hopes of getting permission to access the property for renourishment projects.

It is still not known what exactly the landowners were doing, or if the work was permitted but Benson did say it appeared to be the early phases of development — but since the town has extra-territorial jurisdiction over the property, he would imagine the town would have to be informed if any development activity were taking place.


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