WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - A former Wrightsville Beach business owner was issued 29 tickets in three years for allegedly violating a town-enforced zoning ordinance. Now, that business owner and his attorney are taking the case to federal court.
Chris Mangum owned and operated Wrightsville Beach Jet Ski Rentals until two years ago when the town shut the business down.
“Chris is the owner of Wrightsville Beach Jet Ski Rentals. He’s a Wilmington based business that meets his customers down here at the boat ramp. It’s state-owned property where the public is allowed to come and launch water vehicles including boats, jets skis, whatever they want. For 17 years, he operated his business in a legal fashion with no concern,” said Mangum’s attorney Greg Buscemi.
Mangum says he’s rented jet skis since 2007 and has always done so legally, by collecting money in Wilmington or online before launching his jet skis over the Wrightsville Beach Bridge at the state-owned NC Wildlife boat ramp.
“Anyone who rents jets skis in Wrightsville Beach has to do business off the island. That is a Wrightsville Beach rule. So we collect money in Wilmington or online and then you simply come across the bridge and hop on your jet ski,” Mangum said.
In 2015, Mangum began receiving tickets from the Town of Wrightsville Beach for violating a zoning ordinance. Mangum and Buscemi say this is not true.
Buscemi says the town cannot enforce a zoning ordinance on state-owned property.
Nevertheless, between 2015 and 2017, the town issued Mangum a total of 29 tickets, with each ticket costing $50. Mangum said he knew he was not violating any zoning laws by launching his jet skis on the state-owned property.
To appeal a ticket, there is a non-refundable $500 fee.
“No one in their right mind would pay a $500 non-refundable fee for a $50 fine, that is absurd. But that’s how Wrightsville Beach strong arms you and gets you out of here,” Mangum said.
Buscemi argues charging a non-refundable $500 appeal fee for a $50 ticket is unconstitutional.
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The business and the town have been embroiled in a legal battle for quite some time. A few years ago, the town got a court order stop Mangum’s business from operating in the town’s jurisdiction.
“It’s been shut down for two years. I have not worked in two years. This has been a very stressful, a very stressful vacation if that’s what you want to call it,” Mangum said.
Because Mangum has not paid for citations he says were wrongfully issued, Wrightsville Beach eventually sent him a notice that they were going to collect the unpaid penalties using the N.C. debt set-off program.
Bescemi said, by law, this program provides debtors the right to a hearing to contest the debt, which his client requested repeatedly. Bescemi says eventually the town decided to sue him instead. Mangum has not paid the citations, and could technically be arrested at any point.
“The bottom line is if you get on the town’s website it clearly says the UDO [zoning ordinance] of Wrightsville Beach applies to state-owned land only when a building is involved. There is no building down here. Therefore, I was never violating the UDO. I should have never been sued. My business should not have been shut down and I should not have been going through what I’ve been through the past four and a half years,” he said.
The federal lawsuit explores a 10 year history of local leaders trying to regulate jet skis.
“All because they don’t like jet skis. We’re talking four to six jet skis. We’re not talking about 20. This isn’t Miami. Four to six jet skis. It’s outrageous.”
WECT reached out to Tim Owens for comment, but he said he could not speak on the issue due to ongoing litigation.