Monday, December 11, 2023

Wrightsville Beach facing another lawsuit for using zoning ordinance to target certain businesses

Wrightsville Beach is facing a civil suit over its use of zoning ordinances to block some businesses from operating. (Port City Daily photo / File)

Author’s note: This is part one in a two-part series breaking down pending litigation the Town of Wrightsville Beach is involved in. Part Two will analyze the actual complaints and requests for relief in the lawsuit.

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The small beach town Wrightsville Beach is once again facing a lawsuit for not allowing a business to operate within town limits due to what the town considers zoning violations.

It is the third lawsuit Port City Daily has found linked to the town’s use of it’s ‘certificate of zoning compliance’ to prevent businesses from operating.

That includes the lawsuit where the town decided to take on the N.C. ABC Commission in an attempt to stop the private club Red Dog’s from getting its ABC Permit to run a bar (technically, it is a private club as ‘bars’ are not permitted in N.C.).

The town also faced a federal lawsuit brought by the operator of a jet-ski rental company that was forced to shut down after receiving dozens of zoning violations. These were zoning violations that the state has confirmed the town has no right to issue since the jet-ski operators were utilizing public property owned by the state.

Related: Deep dive: After years without issues, what made Wrightsville Beach go after a jet-ski rental company?

Recently, a federal judge dismissed several parts of that lawsuit, but the attorney for the plaintiffs has said he plans on appealing that decision.

The Town of Wrightsville Beach has had relatively little reporting on the number of lawsuits it has faced in the past few years, but it’s not necessarily because of apathy.

Instead, the town has failed to inform the public of the pending lawsuits during its Board of Alderman meetings as required by state statute; elected officials have repeatedly entered into closed sessions without first listing the purpose of a closed session, and the parties involved in pending lawsuits, steps which are required by law.

This means that items discussed in closed sessions, like pending lawsuits, were kept from the public eye.

Related: Wrightsville Beach in apparent violation of open meeting law, town claims it did nothing wrong

But a public records request has revealed the town has faced and is currently involved in a number of lawsuits — including one titled WB Waterman, LLC v Town of Wrightsville Beach.

It is worth pointing out that the company is owned by Reggie Barnes, who also happens to own the property where Red Dogs is located (although he does not own the bar itself). Eastern Skateboard Supply was also named in previous legal actions taken by the town against Red Dogs

The latest lawsuit starts in 2018 at 100 W. Salisbury Street — the home to a former convenience store that has sat vacant for years.

100 Salisbury Street

The property at 100 W. Salisbury Street has been vacant for years, but when businesses try and do something with the property, the town has pushed back (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

It all began when WB Watermen LLC. applied for a conditional use permit to allow a restaurant at the property located at 100 W. Salisbury Street.

Plans were submitted to the town to repurpose the old Scotchman building that has sat in a dilapidated state for years — but not everyone in the town was excited with the repurposed use.

So what is the problem? Well, along with the restaurant, the plans called for a private dock with nine boat slips behind the property — something that, according to the applicants, is permitted by right.

Related: New restaurant proposed for longtime vacant convenience store in Wrightsville Beach

The city disagreed, claiming the private dock would could as a marina, which would require a conditional use permit.

Thus, when the company requested a certificate of zoning compliance from the town, they were told that without a certificate they couldn’t build the restaurant the way they had hoped to.

After facing challenges from residents and town staff, plans for the restaurant were pulled from the town, according to Lumina News. But that would hardly be the last the town heard from the property owners.

WB Watermen LLC. went on to appeal the decision of the zoning administrator to the town’s Board of Adjustment where the board sided with the town’s previous decision.

“The Wrightsville Beach Board of Adjustment unanimously found that town staff was correct in ruling that the C-3 zoning classification for 100 W. Salisbury St. didn’t allow for WB Watermen, LLC, to build a nine-slip dock into Lees Cut behind the property,” Lumina News reported.

After the loss of appeal, WB Watermen filed a petition for writ of certiorari in Superior Court. This simply means the applicant is requesting a higher court review the decision of a lower court (in this case, the lower court is the Board of Adjustment).

This was in April of 2019.

In October, a discovery scheduling order was added to the court records that show a ‘trial date’ of Feb. 10, 2020, between the two parties. It does appear that there will be a mediated settlement conference as well.

According to the N.C. Judicial Branch, this is a tool to help settle cases outside of trials.

“The Mediated Settlement Conference Program is designed to offer parties, with the help of their attorneys and a mediator, an opportunity and the support they need to settle their cases earlier. During a mediated settlement conference, the parties, their attorneys, and a mediator are required to sit down together to discuss the matters in dispute and to try and resolve them. The conference will typically occur relatively early in the litigation process, but after parties have had time to conduct discovery and learn about the case,” according to the website.

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