Category Archives: REAL ESTATE

Who pilfered written summary of secret meeting?

Or: “The Mysterious Case of Oriental’s Missing Minutes!”

The Oriental Town Commission met Monday to release some, but not all, of  requested Closed Session minutes. From left, Commissioners Charlie Overcash, David White, and Barb Venturi; Mayor Warren Johnson, and Commissioners Larry Summers and Sandy Winfrey.

The Oriental Town Commission met Monday to release some, but not all, of requested Closed Session minutes. From left, Commissioners Charlie Overcash, David White, and Barb Venturi; Mayor Warren Johnson, and Commissioners Larry Summers and Sandy Winfrey.

ORIENTAL – Please stick with this: The story is equal parts funny, serious, and confusing. The narrative concerns a controversial land swap, but also has elements of a fascinating TV-show ‘who-done-it?’

If North Carolina had no huge, gaping exceptions to its professed policy and law mandating Open Meetings at all levels of government, there would be no story – and a blank spot on the page of this newspaper.

However, these exceptions exist! Elected officials may legally hobnob in so-called ‘closed meetings’ where rank-and-file citizens are excluded from all discussions and deliberations.

One exception allows behind-doors-meetings when elected officials want to negotiate real estate deals — which is what the Town of Oriental commissioners did a lot of during late 2011 and the first six months of 2012.

However, in a nod to the Freedom of Information Act, Sunshine Laws, and other loophole laden regulations, most closed meetings in North Carolina are required to be documented – supposedly by a fastidious, studious, and diligent note-taking fiend of one sort or another!

And, please note – when things happen afterward that render such secrecy null and void, governments are required to release the written minutes of closed meetings. Usually, these minutes have been sanitized to the nth degree. All of the juicy stuff never, ever finds its way onto a black-and-white page.

Occasionally, though, some relevant stuff sneaks through.

Now, that’s what former Oriental town commissioner David Cox was hoping for when he recently requested a passel of Closed Meeting minutes. Cox has been a thorn in the town’s side since July 2012, when officials approved swapping a large swath of South Avenue right-of-way in exchange for a waterfront parcel – where construction is now underway for a park, restrooms, and other amenities.

This gets confusing, but here goes: Cox claims the town never owned the right-of-way. Rather, all of South Avenue had been dedicated more than a century ago to town residents at large.

The town can’t trade what it does not own,” Cox has been known to say on more than one occasion.

Well, nevertheless, the deal went through in late June of 2012 – but not over the dead body of Cox. He is quite alive, and quickly sued town officials with both barrels. Recently, Cox agreed not to appeal a court ruling that favored the town.

And, that settlement now transforms a great deal of once secret, closed session minutes into public fodder!

If you want to spend hours on end contemplating the legal complexities of the case, Cox is your man. E-mail him at: cox.d.r@att.net

In recent weeks, those of us who follow town politics have heard rumors – and public pronouncements – that at least some of the ‘Closed Session Minutes’ requested by Cox are missing!

These seem to have walked away from Town Hall,” said Commissioner Barb Venturi during the Aug. 4 town meeting.

And, town manager Diane Miller – who was not on the payroll way back when all of this stuff was going on – added: “We are attempting to recreate what we cannot locate,” referring to sometimes unreliable audio recordings of all town sessions – both closed and open.

Confused yet?

Monday, Aug. 10, in an unusual Special Meeting of the town board, recently appointed mayor Warren Johnson read from a prepared statement, in which he acknowledged “a book of Closed Session minutes that is not currently able to be located” and also conceded “minutes missing from Town Records” attributable to a closed session held on Jan. 13, 2012.

Cox may never find a smoking gun, but his request for closed session minutes did uncover some interesting tidbits. Turns out town officials were mad as hell at Cox for filling his lawsuits. And, town officials were giving serious consideration to pursuing ‘sanctions’ against Cox – a rarely used legal maneuver intended to discourage perceived-to-be frivolous lawsuits by imposing financial penalties on a plaintiff — in this case, Cox.

There’s more of course. Read all of Johnson’s two-page statement in the PDF below:

Mayor Warren Johnson statement

Former commissioner explains why he sued Oriental Town Board

David Cox

David Cox

By David Cox

When the Oriental Town Board closed Avenue A on July 3, 2012, and the end of South Avenue on April 2, 2013, they swindled me and other property owners out of our private property rights.

I’m not making this up.

The principle is spelled out in more than a century of North Carolina Court decisions, most clearly in a 1956 NC Supreme Court case, Town of Blowing Rock v. Gregorie:

It is a settled principle that if the owner of land, located …[in a] town, has it subdivided and platted into lots and streets, and sells and conveys [any of] the lots … with reference to the plat… he thereby dedicates the streets, and all of them, to the use of the purchasers, and those claiming under them, and of the public.”

Purchasers of [such subdivision] lots … acquire vested rights to have all and each of the streets shown on the map kept open.”

To have deprived those who purchased lots with reference to the original map, and those claiming under them, of appurtenant rights in and to the streets, for the purpose of vesting such rights in another merely for private use would run counter to provisions of the Constitution of North Carolina, Art. I, Sec. 17, and to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

That’s exactly what the Town Board did. They took my vested rights in South Avenue and vested them in another merely for private use.

Does the precedent still apply? The North Carolina Court of Appeals thought so as recently as 2009 when it restated the principle in Town of Oriental v. Henry, in which the court ruled against a landowner who claimed to own the waterfront portion of South Avenue as his property:

Generally, where lots are sold and conveyed by reference to a map or plat which represents a division of a tract of land into subdivisions of streets and lots, such streets become dedicated to public use, and the purchaser of the lot or lots acquires the right to have each of the streets kept open. Wofford v. Highway Commission (1965).”

Soon after the Town of Oriental was formed, the N.C. courts held the same rights arise when developers sell lots by reference to streets marked on the ground or depicted in town maps.

The courts have also held that subdivisions with public areas fronting waterways give lot purchasers private rights of water access. This means that when my wife and I bought our Academy Street property, we bought a water-access lot. When the Town closed the end of South Avenue, it reduced the value of every non-waterfront property in the old village.

These cases, and many others, establish that the Town government stole my (and my neighbors’) private property rights in Avenue A and South Avenue, in violation of the NC street closure statute, a statute designed to prohibit closings which unconstitutionally interfere with private property rights.

My property rights in the streets arose in 1899 when Robert P. Midyette and Lou B. Midyette, along with a handful of others, created a subdivision of their lands in order to form a town.

Lou marked the streets on the ground with stakes and assigned them names. The Midyettes and other landowners then sold lots with deeds describing the marked streets as lot boundaries. One of the first lots sold by Lou after marking the streets was part of my present property, and the deed described the property as bordering on Academy Street.

The Town government had a survey made of all the streets marked out by Lou (see adjacent map.) As you can see, it includes Academy Street, South Avenue, and the street later known as Avenue A, which is shown on the map as Smith Point Ave.

The crowning glory of the street layout was that 11 streets led to the water. The jewel in that crown was South Avenue, a sixty-foot right of way leading to the harbor.

This was important to my wife and me when we chose to purchase property in Oriental. We had cruised from Maine to the Dry Tortugas. Everywhere we went, the wealthy were buying up waterfront to keep ordinary people out. They built houses so high and wide that people couldn’t even see the water. We were losing our national connection to the sea.

Except in Oriental. Oriental’s residents fought higher buildings and smaller setbacks. As mentioned above, the Oriental Town Board sued to eliminate Henry’s false claim of ownership of the South Avenue waterfront. The Town won. This was the kind of town we wanted to live in.

When Henry’s fence came down, my wife and I rode bicycles down to the water every morning and evening. It was our public right and our private property right. We didn’t need permission from anyone. We were thrilled when, in 2011, the Town sought grant funds to build a pier on the 80 feet of South Avenue waterfront extending 130 feet into the harbor to host six to eight boat slips.

The 2009 decision in Oriental v. Henry should have ended any thought of a private takeover of Town rights of way. By that time, the Town Government had known for more than two decades it had no legal authority to lease, barter or sell a public street.

Unfortunately, in January 2012, the Town Board proposed to exchange the very same end of South Avenue it had wrangled back from Henry in 2009 (at a legal cost of some $25,000) — and the entire length of Avenue A – in exchange for a small parcel of real estate from seafood proprietor Chris Fulcher. Problem is, the Town Board didn’t own either right of way. As Professor David Lawrence explains in his report titled “Property Interests in North Carolina City Streets,” a town can never sell a public right of way because the only thing the town “owns” is the right to keep the street available for use by the public. It is a pretty universal rule that you don’t get to sell or trade something you don’t own.

After the Town Board announced its deal with Mr. Fulcher, I expressed my concerns to the Mayor, commissioners and manager that they were replacing a public right of access with a property in which the public had no rights, and which the Town could sell away at any time. I suggested the Town could achieve its stated goals — while ensuring a permanent public right of water access from the property — by having Mr. Fulcher include a deed restriction (like Lou-Mac Park) or dedicate the property to the public.

They refused. “We don’t want to tie our hands,” as Mayor Bill Sage wrote and as Commissioner Barbara Venturi recited. Commissioner Larry Summers explained they did not want to restrict the town’s future ability to sell the property in order to buy some other property elsewhere.

I urged the Town Board to seek written opinions from the NC Attorney General and the School of Government, as then Town Attorney Ben Hollowell did years earlier in like circumstances. The Town Board refused, no doubt fearing the Attorney General would nix their plan in a public document.

It became apparent that Town government wasn’t interested in legal niceties. The fix was in.

While I was certain then (and still am) the Town had no authority to exchange a public right of way for real estate, if the deal had guaranteed permanent public access to the new property I would not have filed suit.

But the deal called for no such assurance. The new property is not a public amenity, but rather a financial asset owned by the municipal corporation, which it may or may not allow the public to use until it may well receive a good enough offer, ultimately selling to a private purchaser.

The Board’s “Resolution” to use the property as a park is meaningless. In a case heralded by the Town Board’s attorneys during my litigation, the NC Court of Appeals held that the town of Valdese could sell a property it owned in fee simple at any time, despite its having been used for a public park.

If my case was as good as I say it is, why did I lose? Good question.

The statute allowing appeals of street closings says “any person aggrieved” may seek a court review of its legality. Both I, and my attorney, believed my status as a taxpayer and citizen challenging what amounted to a fraud by my town government was enough to establish I was a “person aggrieved” within the meaning of the statute.

The Court disagreed, deciding that “person aggrieved” refers only to someone who owns a property interest in the streets and has suffered a personal injury to those interests by the closure. Since I had not included a claim of personal injury to my property rights in my complaint, I had failed to establish standing. The Court did not rule that the Town Board had acted lawfully, or that it would have been impossible for me to establish standing. Only that I had not included the necessary words in my complaint to seek court review of the closing.

The Court’s opinion noted twice it was NOT ruling on my South Avenue challenge, and gave me a roadmap for continuing that case. I could establish standing in South Avenue if I included a claim of personal injury in my complaint, included enough facts to show I own property in the same subdivision as South Avenue, and made legal arguments about subdivision owners’ private rights in subdivision streets.

I made sure all of these elements were included in my South Avenue case before the next court hearing.

At that hearing the Town Board’s attorney bragged that as a young lawyer he had used same arguments to win a NC Supreme Court decision blocking a mall development from taking over streets in his client’s subdivision. He then simply asserted that the theory did not apply to my case because the Town had made a map of the streets. He did not explain how a Town map of streets erased private property rights, or address any of the cases I had cited holding that private rights DO arise when developers sell lots according to a town map or a streets staked out on the ground.

He did not need to do so. He knew the judge was going to rule in favor of the Town Board under any excuse, leaving me to face yet another appeal. And that is what the judge did. The judge also invited the Town Board to submit a new motion for sanctions against me to recover its attorney costs since the Court of Appeals’ Avenue A decision, approximately $20,000.

After filing the necessary paperwork to preserve my right to appeal, I decided to withdraw. Not because I was afraid of losing South Avenue at the Court of Appeals or of the threat of sanctions – I had corrected all the mistakes made in the Avenue A case and complied with all the requirements explained to me by the Court of Appeals in that case.

I withdrew because I had a good idea how much time and work would be involved in pursuing an appeal on standing, followed by subsequent procedural battles and up to three more appeals. Because of the Town Board’s commitment to spending as much treasure as needed to delay reaching a decision on the merits of my challenge, I could look forward to at least three or four more years of legal wrangling, and I was already drained from the previous three years.

Even so, I made it clear to attorney Scott Davis that if the Commissioners continued to pursue sanctions against me as threatened, I would have no choice but to continue my appeal to the Court of Appeals. They dropped the sanctions idea like a hot potato (Davis, the Town Board’s attorney, had previously explained that my suit was not “frivolous”) and drafted a very accommodating settlement agreement. They did not do this to be nice. They did it because otherwise I would have pursued my appeal, the Town Board’s attorneys would have lost, and it would have been impossible for them to argue successfully that the Town Board had complied with the street closure statute.

I speak out now because next week candidates for municipal office will file for election in November. Voters and property owners in Oriental need to know how thoroughly officials elected four years ago betrayed their interests. Of the Town Board members, only then-Commissioner Warren Johnson asked any of the pertinent questions that should have been asked. Officials elected two years ago did little better.

I don’t know what advice attorneys gave the Town Board behind closed doors. I do know that it was only advice. Attorneys aren’t responsible. Only elected officials are responsible to the voters. Attorneys have no authority. Only elected officials have authority. The Town Board is responsible for what is done on their behalf, whether they accept or reject advice of attorneys. I am not sure whether the Board understood the attorneys’ thinking, or whether they consulted other sources. This is especially important for elected officials who are the responsible decision makers when a Town is party to litigation.

We need elected officials who understand that.

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Click on Map to Enlarge

Isaac Taylor House still relevant after 253 years

Current owners, with plan in place, committed to preservation

The Isaac Taylor House was built in 1792.

The Isaac Taylor House was built in 1792.

Mike and Lisa Lentz in her studio.

Mike and Lisa Lentz in her studio.

NEW BERN — It takes a remarkable couple to acquire an historic landmark and create a space that welcomes not only its own community but also surrounding areas. Enter Mike and Lisa Lentz, the current owners of the Isaac Taylor House – originally built in 1792 – at an address now known as 223 Craven Street in downtown New Bern.

Dedication, commitment, time, and love of community spurred the couple’s purchase of a hugely significant piece of history!

“I am the current custodian of the facility, and my job is to make sure things stay historically accurate,” said Mike, during a recent interview.

The two traveled diverse paths on their way to New Bern. Mike originally owned coffee shops in Maryland until the “chains” came to town. He found that there was no market loyalty, and he set out on a new path. Once in New Bern, Mike purchased MJ’s Raw Bar and Grille on Middle Street.

Lisa is an artist. She lived in Vancouver and then traveled quite a bit as her father, a Weyerhaeuser employee, moved from place to place. She settled in New Bern after spending several summers here. She loved the history and culture! It was a phenomenal place to paint, and she spent most days outside without any regard for the weather.

Lisa is dedicated to her craft.

Back in 2012, Mike was looking for another investment in the downtown area. The two were dating, having met (where else?) at MJ’s – you remember, the place was now owned by Mike!

The couple married in August 2013. By then, they had a shared vision for the Isaac Taylor House, which is a stone’s throw from MJ’s.

Many, many hours of hard manual labor were in the newlywed’s future!

Basket used to raise food to third floor for Isaac Taylor’s daughters, while home was occupied by soldiers.

Basket used to raise food to third floor for Isaac Taylor’s daughters, while home was occupied by soldiers.

The previous owners, Paul and Lois Switzer, are a big part of this story. They had applied for — and received — state and federal Historic Tax Credits. Before selling their historic home, the Switzers brought the plumbing and electric up to code. They also renovated apartments on the third and fourth floors.

Mike tackled renovations of the second floor apartment, and undertook the tremendous task of transforming the courtyard into the usable space they had both envisioned. After tearing out all of the underbrush, Mike uncovered almost 5,000 square feet of bricks – destined to adorn a magnificent outdoor terrace.

The public may visit in several ways – all part of the couple’s amazing vision. The first floor is Lisa’s studio and art gallery and the public is welcome. The courtyard is open from 1 p.m. until dusk, serving wine, beer, multiple types of coffee, water, and an “al fresco antipasto” menu catered by MJ’s Raw Bar and Grill.

Lisa shares her studio with fellow artists, with just one requirement: “Give back or donate time to community service,” she urges!

The second room on the ground level is the bridal suite. Mike said 16 weddings are on tap for this nuptial season – almost all scheduled for the courtyard!

Lisa and Mike have done any incredible job in a short time, and they make a wonderful team.

When Isaac Taylor departed Scotland for North Carolina so many years ago, he had no idea the legacy he would leave behind in New Bern. Taylor would no doubt be glad that his house is now home to three families; an art gallery; and a courtyard now enjoyed by the people of New Bern where he made his home so many years ago.

Hopefully, one day soon, the great, great, great, grandsons of Isaac Taylor – who are musicians James Taylor and Livingston Taylor — will pay a visit.

For more information about reserving a wedding, corporate function, or private party at the Isaac Taylor Garden, please call 252-649-1712. For catering, contact MJ’s Raw Bar and Grill at 252-635-6890.

Auction goes fast. Former tenant snaps up Croakertown property

The auction was a male-dominated affair, with a dozen showing up, although most kept their hands pocketed.

The auction was a male-dominated affair, with a dozen showing up, although most kept their hands pocketed.

Mike Gurkins, left, conducted both auctions, while his associate Dewey Dunn used a smart phone to document the give-and-take among bidders and auctioneer.

Mike Gurkins, left, conducted both auctions, while his associate Dewey Dunn used a smart phone to document the give-and-take among bidders and auctioneer.

ORIENTAL – One of this small town’s highest profile commercial properties – known to many as Croakertown – hit the auction block Wednesday morning.

Also up for grabs, in a separate auction, was a fenced parcel and commercial building at the intersection of Straight Road and Highway 55.

Country Boys Auctioneers (that’s the name of their firm, not a homespun description) Mike Gurkins and Dewey Dunn labeled the 15-minute event a success. Dunn, who said he has done ‘hundreds” of auctions over the past 30 years with his friend Gurkins, noted the subdued, almost casual way in which the group of approximately 12 men signaled their bids was typical for a commercial auction.

“With a residential auction, possibly a foreclosure or something like that, things are more festive,” said Dunn. “But with this one, we didn’t what to make any more of a spectacle out of this than it already was.”

A former tenant of the Croakertown property, Gary Mastrodonato of Masters Wealth Management, did not attend, but had given his proxy to Gurkins – who entered the final and highest bid in the amount of $210,000.

Minutes later, local seafood magnate Chris Fulcher of Point Pride Seafood, added the Straight Road property to his real estate arsenal with a winning bid of $70,000.

The sales were prompted by a bankruptcy filing. Mastrodonato and Fulcher were each obligated to post a deposit equal to 10 percent of their winning bids. Both sales must be approved by the Bankruptcy Court before closings and land transfers can occur.

How to fill a 29-slip marina basin in exactly nine minutes

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CARTERET COUNTY – Big, tough, large, and unusual are the ways that Bobby Cahoon of Pamlico County-based Bobby Cahoon Marine Construction likes his jobs.

The firm’s most recent assignment culminated Saturday afternoon during a ‘pull the plug’ ceremony at Bogue Watch, a new upscale residential community on the shoreline of Bogue Sound.

The spectacle was equal parts entertainment – attracting a crowd of approximately 300 people – and carefully orchestrated excavation of a dirt ‘plug’ separating the community’s new marina from the vast waters of the picturesque sound.

“I do enjoy the challenging ones,” said Cahoon.

Behind him, as eager spectators gathered, a worker on a mammoth excavator cautiously dug away. His goal: Prepare the site so precisely so that one final scoop – timed for exactly 1:30 p.m. – would trigger an expected cascade of Bogue Sound waters, all meant to quickly fill the marina to a depth of approximately 10 feet offering boaters at Bogue Watch quick, easy access to the sprawling, navigable waterways of eastern North Carolina.

The event went off without a hitch. Sunshine even broke through the heavy cloud cover, as waters on both sides of the breach reached equilibrium.

Mother Nature seemed pleased. Cahoon and his wife Teresa breathed a sigh of quiet relief.

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‘Warm, fuzzy’ unlikely to be part of negotiations for old school site

Buildings, originally constructed in the late 1940s, have become a liability on the site, which was used for decades as the former Bridgeton Elementary School.

Buildings, originally constructed in the late 1940s, have become a liability on the site, which was used for decades as the former Bridgeton Elementary School.

BRIDGETON – Town officials hope to acquire a six-acre riverfront site on B-Street, which was once the home of Bridgeton Elementary. However, the site’s long-time owner, the Craven County Board of Education, sent abrupt word Tuesday night – during a Bridgeton town board meeting – that future negotiations could get testy!

Having recently spoken with an attorney representing the Board of Education, the Bridgeton town attorney told Mayor Rodman Williams and town Commissioners Boots Parker, Keith Tyndall, John Chittick, and Alan Welch that the town “must submit a signed offer to purchase” before the Board of Education will allow Bridgeton to conduct routine inspections of buildings on the property and related ‘due diligence.’

And, the town attorney suggested that his counterpart with the Board of Education “said they will probably not sell for anything less than $600,000.”

The prospect of drafting an offer to purchase — for a price that is currently beyond the fiscal reach of the small town — struck Mayor Williams as a bit of a conundrum.

“This thing (the offer) has got to be drawn to the last detail,” said Williams. “There’s an awful, awful lot of work that has to be done and formulated before that happens,” later adding, “you’ve got to get inside those buildings to see what we’ve got to work with.”

Although everyone involved acknowledges the waterfront site is valuable, Commissioner Tyndall said the liability of abandoned buildings is risky, and any future clearing of the acreage would be costly.

“If we had it right now, free and clear, that spot would be an albatross around our necks,” said Tyndall.

The board unanimously approved a motion by Commissioner Chittick to meet Thursday, Feb.19, at 7 p.m. for a workshop “to come up with a game plan and goals for the former school property in Bridgeton.”

Gwaltney earns Century 21 ‘Quality Service Producer Award’

Special to the County Compass

Page-3--Larry-GwaltneyORIENTAL — CENTURY 21 Sail/Loft Realty is pleased to announce that Larry Gwaltney, Owner/Realtor/Broker, has earned the CENTURY 21 Quality Service Producer Award.

Realizing that customer service is an integral part of its commitment to professional excellence, CENTURY 21 Real Estate has recognized Larry Gwaltney of CENTURY 21 Sail/Loft Realty with the CENTURY 21 Quality Service Producer Award.

This national award is presented annually to those CENTURY 21 System members who receive a minimum return rate of 30 percent on their post-transaction client satisfaction surveys sent between January 1 and October 31, with a minimum satisfaction index of 85 percent. Surveys are e-mailed to all customers immediately after the purchase or sale of a home through a CENTURY 21 System office.

The Quality Service Producer Award is an integral part of the CENTURY 21 System’s commitment to excellence and recognizes Larry Gwaltney’s dedication to continuously exceeding the service expectations of his clients.

“Receiving the Quality Service Award allows me to demonstrate even further to my clients that my commitment and dedication to their satisfaction and peace of mind during their real estate transaction is real and taken very seriously,” said Larry Gwaltney.

CENTURY 21 Sail/Loft Realty is a full-service brokerage in Oriental, NC with specific expertise in the Pamlico County real estate market.

Fairfield Harbour leader testifies during deposition

Reveals plans for $3.5 million Community Center

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD HARBOUR – On Friday, Nov. 22, Property Owners Association Board of Directors President, Larry Knapp, said a proposed Community Center may cost property owners as much as $3.5 million.

Knapp’s comments came during his recent deposition, which is part of the discovery phase for a civil suit filed against the Fairfield Harbour Board of Directors by a group of approximately two dozen property owners.

The plaintiffs claim, among other things, that members of the 2009-2010 Board conspired to improperly purchase amenities owned by MidSouth Golf — which included two golf courses, swimming pools and tennis courts.

The alleged conspiracy to purchase amenities would have been an apparent violation of a 2010 Declaratory Judgment by Judge George L. Wainwright, prohibiting the POA Board from using annual dues in order to purchase property of any kind.

In another revelation during his deposition, Knapp told Counsel for the Plaintiffs, outgoing New Bern Mayor Lee Bettis, that had the amenities purchase gone through, property owners would have paid $10.2 million for the acquisition and renovation of structures that had fallen into disrepair, as well as for bringing the overgrown golf courses up to playable condition.

Knapp also volunteered that yearly maintenance of the amenities would have cost Fairfield Harbour’s property owners $800,000 in annual expenses, gleaned from dues unless the golf courses were able to break even through collected revenue.

Bettis raised the issue of the proposed Community Center in order to emphasize the claim made in the original lawsuit that, “Defendants have participated in, and continue to participate in, a pattern of unlawful and tortuous actions designed to intimidate, harass, financially burden and humiliate any individuals who oppose their scheme and the Conspiracy has no foreseeable end.”

Earlier this year, surveys were sent to every Fairfield Harbour property owner, asking for input on the future of the community’s aging Community Center. Of the 2,824 surveys mailed, only 553 surveys were returned. And, just 41 percent of those who responded (equivalent to 8 percent of total property ownership) rated plans to build a new structure as “very important.”

Despite the current lawsuit, and despite lackluster support for the project as determined by the survey, minutes from an Aug. 28, 2013, closed meeting of the Board – obtained by this newspaper – state: “The sole purpose of the work session was to review presentation materials pertaining to the improvement of the FHPOA Community Center.”

The minutes also reveal that John Farkas, the Greenville-based architect for the proposed new Community Center, offered a review of the proposed design with improvements, including preliminary cost projections. A number of other issues such as parking and environmental concerns were also discussed, but no action taken.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and others in the community, contend Fairfield Harbour’s Board of Directors are precluded from building a new Community Center by legal documents adopted years ago during the community’s inception.

In his deposition, Knapp said he and other board members believe a new Community Center is within the purview of the governing body, based on the board’s undisputed authority to make improvements to the community’s facilities.

Any future challenge could hinge upon whether $3.5 million of completely new construction can properly be construed as an ‘improvement.’

Group targets Homeowners Associations

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer

WILMINGTON – Monday evening, approximately 30 individuals from several communities in eastern North Carolina met for a presentation by members of HEAR, an acronym hearnclogo(1)for Homeowners Education, Advocacy Rights, a group intent on working for legislative changes in the way HOA’s and POA’s are run.

In North Carolina, 53 percent of the population lives in some kind of homeowners association or property owners association.

“About 30 per cent are doing well, and the rest aren’t run well, said HEAR4NC Advisory Board member, Ed Gurski, as he began the meeting.

The two-hour session included a presentation on on how the group, which has members in Raleigh, and Charlotte, as well as Wilmington, has two bills pending before the Short Session of the NC Legislature, which will begin in January of 2014.

HB871 will mandate that all property managers who work for associations will be licensed real estate brokers and must be bonded.

“There are no regulations at the moment,” said HEAR4NC founder, Ole Madsen, “and there is a lot of money being handled.”

Another result of the bill’s passage would be that complaints about property managers would be handled by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.

HB883 would make it mandatory for HOA and POA executive directors to participate in a 20-hour online training that would familiarize them with laws and procedures that govern how associations are to be run in accordance with NC laws, and the bylaws and declarations of their respective communities.

Throughout the meeting, participants told of abuses by individual associations. These included tales of everything from refusals to provide financial information on how dues money was being spent to dead fish in mailboxes and even death threats.

At a prior meeting, an individual refused to sign in or give a name, for fear of retribution from the community’s executive directors.

But the news was not all bad. Teresa Rue, Association President of Sedgly Abbey, a Wilmington community of 59 homes, proved that property owners could take back their power, and make positive changes.

On April 16, 2011, Sedgly Abbey held a special meeting where property owners voted to remove the existing governing body. Some of the reasons for the homeowners’ discontent were the secrecy in which the directors operated, refusal to provide information regarding payments to lawyers, as well as other information on how dues were being used, people walking around the community with the express purpose of looking for small infractions, and, what may have been the last straw — liens placed on two homes because of the height of their bushes.

“Since then, we’ve done a lot,” Rue said proudly. “We’ve reduced our dues, set up a website and any member of the Board is available to answer homeowners’ questions.”

One of the first changes the new directors made was to immediately remove the liens on the two home with the offending bushes.

“We’re not a board, we are part of the community,” Rue emphasized.

Not every association has such a happy ending, and for those communities who are still engaged in daily power struggles between disgruntled property owners and their governing bodies, there is a hard road ahead. According to HEAR4NC, organizations such as the management companies, and their umbrella association, CAI, property managers and the lawyers who work for them, will be lobbying to kill the two pending pieces of legislation.

However, as HEAR4NC makes itself known throughout the State, property owners who are seeking relief from what they feel are dysfunctional and even corrupt association directors, are finding that they are not alone.

For more information, go to http://www.hear4nc.org

Community gets first look at new board members

Photo credit Simon Lock

Photo credit Simon Lock

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD HARBOUR — On Wednesday evening, two newly elected members of the Fairfield Harbour Property Owners Board of Directors were sworn in before a small audience. Jim Cline and Ann Simpson ran unopposed for the seats being vacated by Chris Skrotsky and Wayne Strausbaugh. Though she is no longer a director, Skrotsky now replaces Bob Oster as POA Treasurer, while still retaining her title of Vice President of Finance.

Readers may contact Penny Zibula by e-mail at penny@compassnews360.com.