Residents establish toll road to deal with holiday traffic, but is it legal?

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - If you plan on hitting area beaches this weekend, chances are you will want to pack your patience as traffic will be backed up.

One of those beaches affected is Surf City in Pender County.

"Over the years as the area has grown, traffic has gotten worse, and so people have found a cut through in our neighborhood to the beach from Highway 210 to Highway 50," said Debbi Long, resident of the Cedar Landing and Creek Estates Subdivision. "You bypass all the stoplights, traffic, and waiting."

What was once a little known shortcut has now been discovered.

Cedar Avenue has been used for years to get to the beach faster, but now it seems everyone is driving through this neighborhood of 225 residents. John Conerly with the road maintenance organization for the neighborhood, said 127,500 cars used the half dirt, half paved road last year alone.

"Last Memorial Day weekend, there were 4,100 cars through here so with that, property owners called an emergency meeting," Conerly said.

On May 19, they decided to charge $5 for anyone who wanted to use the private road this coming weekend.

"If you wanna use this road, you can pay $5 or turn around and go the other way," Conerly said. "We are going to have security all weekend and three checkpoints."

Is that legal?

Brian Rick, spokesperson with the NC Department of Transportation, said the DOT does not govern or own the road so it is up to the property owners to make it safe.

WECT spoke with Pender County Planning Director Kyle Breuer, who said he didn't know if it was legal or not, stating there was nothing in the land development laws to charge tolls on a private road.

WECT then contacted the Pender County Sheriff's Office, which contacted the county attorney.

Captain James Rowell said:

According to the general warranty deed of July 12, 2017 between Lanier Development, Inc. and Cedar Landing II and Creek Estates Road Maintenance Organization, Inc. (CL2/CE RMO), Cedar Avenue appears to be a private road owned by CL2/CE RMO.
There are no laws that we know of that prohibit an owner of private property from charging for the use of that property.  Should any member of the community find themselves at odds with CL2/CE RMO, they may need to seek relief through civil court proceedings.  If there is any unrest at any potential "toll booth", the sheriff's office will respond to keep the peace

"If anything is gonna help the situation, it is up to us," Conerly said. "We can't close it totally, just restrict access. Everyone is free to use it with certain conditions."

"When I first heard of the toll I thought it was an awesome idea because it will help the people in our neighborhood and those that don't," said Debbi Long. "It is also a huge safety concern with our children."

The road maintenance organization sends out yearly bills of $150 to maintain the road of gravel, dirt, speed bump signs and homemade speed bumps.

"We need DOT to take over this private road," Conerly said. "We need help. We need visibility."

While the sheriff's office said it will respond if there is any unrest, police will not provide any security over the weekend in the neighborhood as Conerly requested.

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