Outer Banks Voice

North Carolina: Duck Council defers action on public beach access

Several months after a viral video turned the subject into a hot-button issue, the Duck Town Council has decided to defer further discussions about public beach access in the town until next spring, when the municipality expects to finalize its Coastal Area Management Act Land Use Plan (LUP) update.

After considering three options offered by Town Manager Chris Layton at the Aug. 7 Town Council meeting, members agreed to use the LUP as a starting point for further investigation. The document serves as the community’s “blueprint for growth” and is expected to address public water access.

The lack of public beach access became a focal point of debate in late May when local resident and business owner Bob Hovey, a longtime advocate of public beach access, was arrested for trespassing on a privately-owned beach access in the Sand Dollar Shores subdivision.

Owner of Duck Village Outfitters, Hovey sparked a social media firestorm by posting a video of the heated altercation with the neighborhood’s Homeowner’s Association (HOA) members. He also launched a fundraising campaign that raised more than $13,000 toward efforts to secure public beach access in the municipality.

In an Aug. 8 interview with the Voice, Hovey said he plans to file a lawsuit “within days” against the Sand Dollar Shores Homeowner’s Association and the Town of Duck. He has contended in the past that at least three of the beach accesses in Duck were deeded to the public long before the town was incorporated, and remain in the public trust.

Town officials, however, have maintained that all the oceanfront property in Duck except for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility, had been previously platted as private property before the town was even incorporated.

Hovey also said that his court appearance for the May 29 trespassing charge had been postponed until October, and that he intends to plead not guilty.

Speaking at the Aug. 7 meeting, Mayor Don Kingston suggested to fellow council members that they not rush to address the public access issue.

“I think we should do this at our pace,” he said. “Basically, I don’t see a sense of urgency. We are reacting to, yes, some public comments and some very negative social media. But at the same time, we are not coming at this from a standpoint of a demand by our residents and non-resident property owners.”

Kingston also acknowledged the upcoming November election. “We have the potential of change in council in December and may have new members sitting up here who have different thoughts. There are also legal proceeding right now pending [because of trespassing episode]. Not that we are involved, but there are new proceedings out there.” There is a crowded field of nine candidates vying for Duck’s five council seats in the fall elections.

During the Aug. 7 meeting, Layton provided three options for address beach access while noting that using the LUP as a starting point was “the simplest option using the existing process that is already in place.”

One option, Layton said, would be to direct staff to develop a comprehensive overview of the current status of ocean public access in Duck, including limitations and opportunities, and have staff present this document at a future meeting. Council members acknowledged that the option had merit and would likely be utilized as they moved through the process.

Members, however, were not receptive to another option that included hiring a facilitator for $12,000 to set the groundwork and oversee a public meeting that involved all the stakeholders. “I certainly disagree with paying for a facilitator at this point in time,” stated Kingston. “We are already paying for them to facilitate our Land Use Plan.”

As part of the LUP update process, the town also launched a community survey that, among other issues, asks respondents for input on the importance of public water access to the ocean and sound. The LUP, last updated in 2005, is used to guide development and public investment of resources.

See The Outer Banks Voice article . . .