WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The battle between the Town of Wrightsville Beach and a jet ski rental company is still ongoing after two years, and despite judgments against the jet ski business, the owner has no plans on giving up the fight.
The rift goes back several years when the town began citing Chris Mangum for using the state-owned boat launch ramp located at the foot of the Hedi Trask Draw Bridge.
While the property itself is state-owned, the town does have extra-territorial jurisdiction over it. This means that the land here is subject to the town’s zoning ordinance, despite the property not being within town limits. It also gives the town the ability to police the property.
“The North Carolina supreme court in 1912 upheld a law giving Greensboro authority to impose sanitary regulations in the area one mile beyond the city limits. State v. Rice, 158 N.C. 635, 74 S.E. 582 (1912). The legislature in 1917 gave all cities the authority to adopt similar health and safety regulations for areas within a mile of the city limits, an authority that is found today in G.S. 160A-193,” according to the UNC School of Government.
It has been approximately two years since Mangum operated his jet ski rental company at the boat launch; losing the business took away his sole source of revenue, health insurance, and more. He has been forced to take out loans and run up debt just to make ends meet, he said.
When residents at Wrightsville Beach spoke out at town meetings against jet skis in the Intracoastal Waterways, the town essentially had their hands tied. While many can sympathize with homeowners and boaters being bothered by jet skis, the fact of the matter is the town cannot simply ban jet skis from using the waters.
It is worth pointing out that Mangum was just one of multiple jet ski rental companies that use the boat launch ramp, but the town went after Mangum with ferocity, issuing him near 30 civil citations (citations that would cost $500 each to appeal), and finally hitting him with a lawsuit.
All the while, other businesses were left unmolested to use the boat launch ramp.
Eventually, Mangum hired an attorney to help him with the lawsuit, but that attorney failed to represent him and did not file motions in time, so Mangum was forced to let him go and fend for himself.
The town had hired outside counsel to represent them — Mark Hamlet.
With no viable attorney, Mangum was unsure of how to proceed, but when he was presented with a consent judgment from New Hanover County Superior Court, he agreed to it under duress.
“Shortly after Mangum’s former counsel withdrew, defendants presented Mangum with a proposed consent judgment and told him he would need to sign it to avoid an entry of default. The judgment waived the fees charged from the citations but enjoined Mangum and WB-JSR from ‘operating a business involving the rental of jet skis in the Town of Wrightsville Beach or in the town’s Extraterrioritial jurisdiction,’” a federal lawsuit states.
While Mangum did sign the consent judgment in order to avoid a default entry, he still believed the town had no right to pick and choose the businesses it would enforce it’s zoning laws against. Furthermore, the State of North Carolina Department of Wildlife (who owns the ramp) weighed in on the situation — proving the town has no right to limit or dictate who uses the ramp.
“All of our Boating Access Areas are open to the public 24/7 and anyone is allowed to launch from these sites, assuming they follow the regulation posted on our website at: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Boating/Laws-Safety/Boating-Access-Area-Regulations,” according to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Communications Specialist Ryan Kennemur.
“That being said jet ski rental companies can use the ramp. Since the Wrightsville Beach property is owned wholly by Wildlife Commission, the town has no jurisdiction at this BAA,” Kennemur concluded.
Essentially, the town claims that Mangum is operating a business in Wrightsville Beach without a certificate of zoning compliance — a tool the town has used to target other businesses Alderman took issue with, including Red Dogs.
However, unlike Red Dogs, which is in town limits, the town’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) does not apply to the state-owned boat launch.
In fact, the language in the UDO itself is clear.
It says, “In accordance with NC General Statutes 160A-392, the Town of Wrightsville Beach UDO applies to state-owned lands only when a building is involved [emphasis added].”
There are no buildings on the state-owned land, therefore, the UDO does not apply to that land — per the town’s own ordinances.
Mangum alleges the town took action against him due to personal reasons. Apparently, Mangum had texted then-Mayor Bill Blair and another board member informing them of an inappropriate relationship he had heard about between a former board member (who resigned shortly after according to Mangum), and a town employee.
The very next day, he was served with the lawsuit.
Mangum disputes the fact that he conducts business at the boat launch, instead, he signs all paperwork and collects all money in Wilmington, where he is permitted. He simply uses the ramp to launch his jet skis and show riders how to use the equipment, which, again, he is permitted to do according to the state.
When asked about the unfair application of the law the town, along with attorneys have failed to respond to questions.
However, Town Manager Tim Owens actually made it clear that other businesses are ‘probably not’ required to have a certificate of zoning compliance.
In an email to Owens, the question, ‘Does the town require other businesses like fishing charters that launch from the state boat ramp to obtain a certificate of zoning compliance,’ was asked.
“Probably not just, like we wouldn’t require a pizza delivery driver or some other form of delivery from a business in Wilmington to apply for and receive a Certificate of Zoning Compliance,” Owens said.
It is worth noting that when Mangum filed a lawsuit in federal court, a portion of the case was dismissed with prejudice, and while many people think that was the final word, it was not.
Mangum is planning on filing a motion to reconsider, if that fails, he plans on taking his lawsuit to the 4th Circut Court of Appeals in Virginia. At this point, Mangum said, they have taken everything away from him so he has nothing to lose.
Elected leaders of Wrightsville Beach along with Town Attorney Brian Edes were all sent an email asking for comments on the situation.
As seen in the past with Wrightsville Beach, not one person responded.
Editor’s note: This is the first story in an ongoing investigation of the actions taken by the Town of Wrightsville Beach, attorneys, and a superior court judge in relation to this case. Stay tuned for more stories in the coming weeks.