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Court Sides with Currituck in $31.9M Suit

Reprinted from the Outer Banks Voice

The North Carolina Supreme Court said Currituck County will not have to pay $39.1 million in a long-running legal dispute with Virginia Beach, Virginia, developer Chip Friedman and others over a proposed commercial development in the four-wheel-drive area of the Currituck Banks.

Property owners on the northern Outer Banks and Currituck County have been locked in a dispute over commercial development in the Carova Beach area for decades. File photo

In the decision released Friday, high court justices agreed with last October’s ruling by the state Court of Appeals to set aside entry of default and vacate a default judgment delivered by Superior Court Judge Milton Fitch in April 2016 ordering the county to pay Swan Beach LLC $39.1 million in civil damages.

“The county is pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, which we believed would be the result,” said Dan Scanlon, Currituck County manager. “The county looks forward to proceeding with the trial court’s determination of the plaintiff’s claims, which are outrageous and without merit.”

Swan Beach LLC and other plaintiffs alleged the county has discriminated against them by not allowing them to commercially develop property they own in the four-wheel-drive area of Currituck’s northern Outer Banks.

The property was purchased in the 1960s and platted for a mixture of commercial and residential development. The county’s zoning ordinances have evolved over time and now only allow for residential development in the four-wheel-drive area, which has no paved roads.

The plaintiffs assert that they should be allowed to develop the land based on the way it was zoned when they purchased it, and they would not have spent money preparing the land for development if they had known it would not be allowed.

According to the lawsuit, in the 1960s, the county asked the property owners to delay commercial development until there was enough residential development to support it, which they did in good faith.

The county passed its Unified Development Ordinance in 1989, and at some point, the property was zoned as RO2, or essentially residential, with a few allowed business uses, such as marinas and campgrounds. Since then, the plaintiffs have approached the county several times seeking permits for commercial and business uses, including a hotel, cottages, a convenience store and a restaurant, and each has been denied.

The suit also alleged the county had discriminated against the plaintiffs because they were from out of state and Jewish.

In its news release on Friday, the county maintained that it does not discriminate, and that the property rights of Swan Beach LLC were not violated because commercial development in the four-wheel drive area has never been allowed by county ordinance.

In 2013, a Superior Court Judge dismissed the suit, followed by the state appellate court finding some of Friedman’s claims may have had merit and sent it back to the lower court.

Attorneys for Swan Beach LLC offered to settle the suit the following year, but claimed the county missed a filing deadline. That started the series of legal maneuvers leading up to Friday’s ruling.

The case will now return to Currituck County Superior Court for determination of the merits of the plaintiff’s complaint regarding development in the off-road area.

Dee Langston and Sam Walker contributed to this report

This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Voice, a digital newspaper covering the Outer Banks. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Voice to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast.

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This report was compiled from submitted information.