WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH –– An agreement has been reached in a legal dispute over parking and land between the Town of Wrightsville Beach and the homeowners association of Shell Island, the upscale resort on the island’s northern tip.
The town’s board of aldermen approved a settlement agreement at its Aug. 12 meeting, resolving a lawsuit filed previously by the homeowners association. The HOA had attempted to reclaim land for Shell Island that the resort deeded to the town back in 1985.
The agreement entered into by both parties settles a conflict over the town’s ability to build parking at the far north end, a venture attempted by Wrightsville Beach in recent years that was met with opposition from the homeowners association.
Mayor Darryl Mills, in a statement, said, “we are pleased to resolve this costly litigation.” Town leaders believe the settlement will create “more orderly, defined access to the north end of the beach for the public,” and will allow the town “to continue to pursue additional public parking at the north end,” Mills said.
On that parcel of land, near the cul-de-sac that marks the turnaround of N. Lumina Avenue at the town’s northernmost roadway, there was a parking lot at the time it was deeded to Wrightsville Beach. After the lot was removed in the 1990s, the homeowners association sought to throw up obstacles and retake the land when the town eventually moved to rebuild the parking spaces.
“I would imagine that management just really didn’t want any more parking for people that aren’t staying at the hotel,” said Hank Miller, Wrightsville Beach mayor pro tem. “That would be my guess.”
Shell Island Resort includes 169 guest rooms that overlook the Atlantic Ocean. Representatives of the resort did not respond to requests for comment.
The 1985 special warranty deed “is made upon the express condition that [the Town] shall use its best efforts to maintain the property herein donated and conveyed for public purposes in the same manner originally improved by [North Shell Island Development Corp.] for parking and public access,” according to the settlement agreement.
The parking lot was still in use by September 1995. Then came the devastation inflicted by Hurricanes Fran and Bertha in 1996 — and the southbound creep of Mason Inlet in the 1990s that positioned the waterway practically on the resort’s doorstep.
The N.C. Department of Transportation made construction improvements to the cul-de-sac at the beach’s northern edge “on or before” January 1, 1999, according to the settlement agreement. The department extended the cul-de-sac onto the parcel of land in question — which had been deeded to the town in 1985 — “and the parking lot that previously existed was removed.”
The town applied for a Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permit in 2016, requesting authority to construct parking spaces on N. Lumina Avenue and in the cul-de-sac itself.
Wrightsville Beach’s proposal called for 47 parking spaces built around the cul-de-sac, according to a 2018 StarNews report. “This puts the parking back into a place where there was parking until (hurricanes) Fran and Bertha took it away,” Town Manager Tim Owens told the StarNews at the time.
In June 2020, the Shell Island homeowners association filed a complaint in New Hanover County, indicating its opposition to the return of wide-scale parking in that area. It was alleged the town failed to meet the conditions of the 1985 deed, and therefore the HOA was entitled to retake control of the land. The town, in its answer to the complaint filed in August 2020, denied all of the association’s claims.
The dispute with Shell Island has been discussed in closed session meetings of the board of aldermen during the past year. The settlement agreement, consented to by both the town and the Shell Island HOA, keeps the northern land under the town’s control but places restrictions on development in the area.
Owens told Port City Daily the town cannot put parking in the cul-de-sac, as it attempted to a few years ago.
“We can do parking in the right-of-way, just not on the very end there,” Owens said. The “35-40” spaces the town now hopes to build will be along N. Lumina, at 90-degree angles to the road, Owens said.
North of the existing sand footpath — which allows beach-goers access to the shore — the town also plans to establish a new beach access path. “It will likely have to be a wooden, handicap accessible walkway instead of a sand path,” according to the meeting agenda.
Read the settlement agreement in full, here, starting at page 133.
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