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Carolina Beach Council approves purchase of Freeman Park properties

Carolina Beach Town Council approves purchase of Freeman Park land
Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 4:09 PM EST
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CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - The ongoing legal battle for the land at the north end of Pleasure Island, known to locals simply as Freeman Park, is coming to an end after years of expensive litigation. On Friday, Town Council decided to purchase the Freeman Park properties for $7 million.

These lawsuits have been in the courts for years. Earlier this year a judge issued a declaration that the two parties had to reach an agreement on the matter within 45 days, or she would issue a verdict.

Freeman Park has been a major source of revenue for the Town of Carolina Beach bringing in millions of dollars to the town, despite the fact the town does not actually own the beach area where they allow trucks and other 4x4 vehicles to drive. Instead, the town owns a small portion of land where the access and Hatteras ramp is located and simply charge visitors to drive across their property. Freeman Park is technically not even within town limits, but an agreement with New Hanover County gives them extraterritorial jurisdiction on the property.

How we got here

In order to understand the action taken, it is important to understand who owns what when it comes to the north end.

The property is named for the Freeman family, specifically, Bruce Freeman, a Black man who amassed thousands of acres of property in the Carolina Beach and Myrtle Grove area following the Civil War.

When he died in 1905, he left 5,000 acres of land to his heirs, over the years those heirs sold off their portions of land.

Land disputes, environmental concerns, and money: How Freeman Park came to be

Several different LLCs own land at Freeman Park.
Several different LLCs own land at Freeman Park.(Carolina Beach)

Now, the majority of the property is under the control and ownership of several limited liability corporations (LLCs), those corporations are the entities that filed lawsuits against the town after town sent notices of condemnation to them claiming they would take the land for their own use through eminent domain.

The town eventually rescinded those notices and issued new notices that the town would be using parts of the private property for beach renourishment efforts. In response, the four LLCs (which all appear to have at least some of the same owners) filed the following suits.

  • Town of Carolina Beach vs. Carolina Freeman LLC
  • Town of Carolina Beach vs. B&F Enterprises LLC
  • Town of Carolina Beach vs. DRDK LLC
  • Town of Carolina Beach vs. Freeman Beach LLC

Why the fight?

In North Carolina, the beaches belong to the people of the state, there are no private beaches.

These are known as public trust rights.

The language is written in N.C. General Statutes says, “The public having made frequent, uninterrupted, and unobstructed use of the full width and breadth of the ocean beaches of this State from time immemorial, this section shall not be construed to impair the right of the people to the customary free use and enjoyment of the ocean beaches … These public trust rights in the ocean beaches are established in the common law as interpreted and applied by the courts of this State.”

Although the public has access to the dry sand beaches, private property owners can still technically have property lines that extend onto the beach — they just have to allow the public to use the beach.

From condo owners to the town, how Carolina Beach claims ownership of Freeman Park’s entrance

The property owners at Freeman Park have taken issue with the fact the town makes millions of dollars selling access passes to Freeman Park, which isn’t really a park or even owned by the town. In one filing, they allege the town is using the public trust doctrine to run a for-profit business.

Landowners have tried for years to reclaim some of their lands by planting sea oats and grasses aimed at extending the dunes, but Carolina Beach pushed back against the efforts.

WECT reached out to property owners for comment but at the time of publication have not heard from them yet. This article will be updated if they do respond and offer a statement.