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Sunset Beach De-annexation Bill Advances

Developer Sammy Varnam of Brunswick County speaks during the hearing. Photo: Kirk Ross

Developer Sammy Varnam of Brunswick County speaks during the committee meeting, accompanied by Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, right. Photo: Kirk Ross

RALEIGH — A local battle between developers and the town of Sunset Beach reached the halls of the legislature Tuesday as a Senate committee heard from both sides before approving a bill to remove three parcels from the town limits.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee heard from representatives of two of the three developments requesting to be de-annexed as well Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts and his predecessor Rich Cerrato, who currently serves on the town council.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, introduced legislation earlier this month that would de-annex the three parcels, two on the beach and one on the mainland. The bill was approved by a voice vote and now moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

The properties specified in the bill include Palm Cove, a subdivision on the east end of the island; Sunset Creek Commons, an apartment complex for seniors under construction on N.C. 904 on the mainland; and the proposed Sunset West subdivision next to the Bird Island Reserve on the west end of the island.

The Sunset West project is roughly 23 acres including land that was once a waterway known as Mad Inlet. The inlet filled in in the mid-1990s but the area is a federally designated Coastal Barrier Resources Act, or CBRA zone. That makes it ineligible for most federal expenditures and financial assistance, including coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program.

Sunset West developer Sammy Varnam appealed for senators to help. “The reason we are here today,” he said, “is because we’ve lost the faith, trust and support of Sunset Beach.”

He said if passed, the bill would “send a clear message that development is an important part of the economy.”

Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts tells the committee the town is committed to resolving differences with developers. Photo: Kirk Ross

Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts tells the committee the town is committed to resolving differences with developers. Photo: Kirk Ross

Watts told senators that there are some “vocal” residents who are opposed to growth, but that the town is committed to working with the developers to resolved differences.

He asked the committee to table the bill while negotiations continue and estimated it could take two to three months to work out the differences.

Among the disputes is the actual ownership of the Sunset West land, part of which was owned by the town.

Watts said that matter would eventually need be decided by the courts and could take up to two years to settle the legal dispute.

Cerrato called Rabon’s bill “de-annexation without representation” and said the council would “not let any law fracture the town of Sunset Beach.”

The move would likely end up in court, he said. “The only ones who will benefit [from the bill] are the attorneys,” he said.

Developer Bert Exum accused the town of not acting in good faith in dealings with Palm Cove. He said the town changed rules on swimming polls and dune crossovers that were part of the development and skipped over the area when sewer lines were installed.

Exum said the legislation was requested as a last resort. He said the town failed to live up to an agreement reached last year on some of the concerns.

If the bill becomes law, the developers would then deal with county officials for future building permits. The town would no longer receive property tax revenues from the three properties.

About the Author

Kirk Ross

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist based in the Triangle. In addition to Coastal Review Online, he covers the legislature and state government for Carolina Public Press and The Washington Post. He can be reached at kirkrossreport@gmail.com.