Sunday, January 16, 2022

After 2 years and more than $200k in legal fees, Carolina Beach still hasn’t resolved Freeman Park lawsuits

New ropes and posts have been installed in Carolina Beach's Freeman Park, but it is not the work of private property owners (Port City Daily photo/JOHANNA FEREBEE)
The Town of Carolina Beach is embroiled in several joint lawsuits regarding Freeman Park. (Port City Daily photo/JOHANNA FEREBEE)

CAROLINA BEACH — It has been more than two years since the Town of Carolina Beach first filed legal notices informing property owners near Freeman Park that the town was trying to purchase their property or seize it through eminent domain.

On Feb. 27, 2018, the Carolina Beach Town Council met in a closed session to discuss a resolution that would authorize the town to obtain title to the land either by voluntary acquisition or condemnation.

Several months after sending out these notifications the town rescinded the notice of condemnation — but the town was still actively trying to take a portion of the property through a temporary easement to allow a beach nourishment project.

The lawsuits have cost the town a significant amount of money in terms of legal fees. Not only does the town have its own attorney, Noel Fox, working on the cases but the town council has retained outside counsel as well.

How we got here: Recent activity at Freeman Park is 10 years in the making

Attorney’s fees

As most people are aware, lawsuits are typically not cheap. In this particular instance, the Town of Carolina Beach has two attorneys working on the case — the town attorney Noel Fox, and special counsel Stephen Coggins.

“In 2018, Town Council voted to hire Special Counsel Stephen Coggins with Rountree and Losee LLP.  To date, the Town has paid $217,302.17 to Rountree Losee LLP.  Town Attorney Noel Fox serves as a liaison and assists Mr. Coggins as required by providing updates to Town Council and attends mediation. Ms. Fox bills the Town on a monthly basis and the only item I see that separately lists out this matter is a 13-hour mediation for a total cost of $2,600,” according to Town Clerk Kim Ward.

Determining how much the town has paid Coggins is easy, but for Fox, who represented the town in most other legal matters, it is more difficult to determine how much has been spent on this particular topic.

Other lawsuits, like the one the town was facing brought by Harris Teeter, took a large number of resources as well.

Since January 1 of 2018, the Town of Carolina Beach has spent $311,011 on Town Attorney Fox.,

“Town Attorney since 1/1/2018 $311,011. This includes all Council meetings, hiring two new managers, Harris Teeter, Freeman Park, Oceana, Police Department, etc.,” Ward said.

At their Town Council meeting in June elected leaders went into a closed session to discuss the pending lawsuits, but no action was taken.

So is there any end to the lawsuits, and their expenses, in sight? Right now, since the litigation is still pending, it is unclear when the parties will reach any sort of agreement.

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