Owners Installing Sand Fencing Prompts Town To Close Freeman Park

Owners Installing Sand Fencing Prompts Town To Close Freeman Park

Owners Installing Sand Fencing Prompts Town To Close Freeman Park

By / Local News / Thursday, 15 February 2018 02:54

By: Willard H. Killough III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH – The Town of Carolina Beach closed Freeman Park at 6pm today, February 14th, due to a property owner erecting sand fencing and limiting the area of safe travel for vehicles driving on the public-trust dry sand beach.

Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive on the Northern End of Pleasure Island, is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction. The Town owns the first 1,000 feet beyond of the end of Canal Drive. After that, parcels are privately owned.

Private properties west of the front of the dune line are considered private while any portion of a property located east of the front of the dune line is open to public use under State Law as a public-trust area. That includes the dry sand beach east to the high water mark. The wet sand beach belongs to the State of North Carolina.

The Town has authority to manage the public-trust beach as a park. That was granted to them by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners some years ago. There is a fee charged for vehicle access to drive on the beach front within the park. The Town doesn't charge people a fee to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access.

The Town has the authority under State Law to “regulate, restrict and prohibit” vehicles driving on the dry sand beach within the public-trust area.

In December of 2016, several property owners asked the Town of Carolina Beach to remove new campsites established on the beach in Freeman Park due to damage to the sand dunes and impacts causing erosion of their properties.

Elizabethtown, NC based Attorney H. Clifton Hester sent a letter to Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox dated December 5th, 2016 representing the concerns of his clients, Freeman Beach, LLC, Carolina Freeman, LLC, and B&F Enterprises of Calabash, LLC.

Hester wrote, "I am writing to you as attorney for the above-named entities who own the property located north of the City limits of Carolina Beach and bounded on the east by the mean high water line of the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Intracoastal Waterway. These owners have, for many years, appreciated the efforts of the Town to police this area and provide amenities to the public, all of which the owners felt were beneficial to their own interests, including their real property interests. The owners felt and still feel that the tradition and history of this area are to keep it open to those who enjoy the oceanside beauty and the beach."

He explained, "The actions of Carolina Beach in providing police services, trash bins/clean-up services and restrooms has likewise been in keeping with this tradition. However recent developments have caused some concern to the owners. The Town has, in the last couple of years, established campgrounds on the property of the named entities as well as their neighbors. While none of the owners initially objected to this project, the results of this enterprise has been to significantly diminish the viability of the area as a beach resort. "

Hester wrote, "The campgrounds have caused an increasing amount of vehicular traffic on the privately-owned areas of the beach, leading to the destruction of some of the dunes as well as other areas which must be preserved in order to maintain the beauty and viability of the beach as a haven for tourists. The interests of my clients are to preserve the natural beauty and viability of this area. However, when the actions of the members of the public cause destruction to the natural beauty of the area, the owners feel that they have not only a right, but a duty to speak up and request that the Town take action to protect their property interests. Moreover, the actions of the public appear to be promoted by the Town which established the campgrounds on areas that are private property."

He explained, "Because of this, the owners are requesting that the Town take immediate action to close these campgrounds to the extent that they are located above the mean high water mark and to otherwise provide police protection to prevent further use by the public which may accelerate the erosion and diminution of the beach property. The attached copy of the survey map as well as the pictures depicting the damages caused by vehicular use to the area show the reasons for the owners concerns. I will be happy to appear at the Town meeting to answer questions the Board of Commissioners may have about these issues. Otherwise, I request that the Board take immediate action at the next meeting to address these issues and provide me with a copy of any resolution regarding the same. Please give us a response by December 30th. By copy of this letter to Noel Fox. I am advising your attorney of these concerns as well and trust that she will contact me with any questions that may be addressed in advance of your meeting."

Town Attorney Noel Fox responded to Hester on December 22nd, 2016. In a letter to Hester, Fox explained the correspondence wasn't received by the Town or herself until December 13th and, "I attempted to contact you on December 19th to discuss this matter. I have not yet received a return call from you. The purpose of my call was to inform you that there were no pictures depicting the damage caused by vehicular use enclosed in the letter received by the Town or me. I would appreciate receiving those photographs prior to discussing the matter further with the Town."

Fox wrote, "The Town will not be able to meet the December 30, 2016 deadline imposed in your letter due to the approaching holidays. I took forward to receiving the pictures and will contact you again upon receipt to discuss this matter further."

On March 14th, 2017, Fox explained that no further letters had been received and there was no litigation filed against the Town.

At the time, Town Manager Michael Cramer explained that, "With the recent dune erosion on Freemen Park we have noticed that vehicle tracks have been observed over the dunes. About a month or so ago we installed additional posts and rope to try to keep vehicles out of the area."

According to the Town's budget, Freeman Park generated $1,137,000.00 in revenue for fiscal year 2015-2016.

The properties owned by those parties represented by Hester encompass the largest stretch of the beach front within Freeman Park. The Town owns the first 1,000 feet after the end of Canal Drive. After that point, numerous tracts of land are under private ownership with the largest owned by Freeman Beach LLC of Clarkton, NC at 169.6 acres stretching from the ocean to the waterway including the land and marsh area west of the sand dunes.

The Town Council adopted new restrictions for camping within Freeman Park in 2015 as a way to address overcrowding within the park. Prior to the new camping rules, it was estimated that as many as 875 campsites would pop up near the water during busy summer weekends.
The new restrictions limited the number of campsites to 119 and they were positioned along the dune line. No camping was permitted towards the waters edge and the public is not permitted to walk or drive on the dunes.

Visitors planning to stay overnight at Freeman Park were required to purchase a camping permit for a specific campsite. Those permits were available on a first come first serve basis between April 1st and September 30th.

On February 14th, crews working for the property owners began installing sand fencing approximately 40’ feet east of the dune line just beyond the boundary of the property owned by the Town. In addition to the fencing, sea oats were planted west of the sand fencing.

Town Manager Michael Cramer issued a statement Wednesday afternoon stating, “This morning (February 14, 2018), Town staff was alerted to activities on Freeman Park that have the potential to be a public safety hazard.  Representatives from the Freeman Beach LLC, who own private property on Freeman Park, have installed posts, rope and sea oats plantings, which encroach on the area of historical public beach.”

Cramer explained the Town alerted CAMA (North Carolina Division of Coastal Management) of the situation and, “CAMA will be discussing the property owners interpretation of the rules and regulations that govern the North Carolina Coast. Neither the town nor CAMA was consulted on this project and we were unaware of the activity until this morning. Due to the current beach obstructions and to preserve the public safety and reduce the likelihood of accidents at night, Freeman Park will close at 6:00 pm tonight. Freeman Park will remain closed until we receive direction from CAMA officials. We are sorry for this inconvenience and hope to resolve the issue quickly. Your cooperation is appreciated.”

Click here to view a copy of the CAMA Permit...

Click here to view the Neighbor Notifications required by CAMA...

 

Signed erected near newly planted sea oats that reads, "Beach Grass Restoration Do not Disturb". (Photo: Karin Harriss: Facebook post)

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