Town court-bound Monday

Published 3:25 am Thursday, July 8, 2010

Staff Writer

BATH — Eight Bath residents are asking a Superior Court judge to overturn a 2009 zoning decision made by the Bath Board of Commissioners.
A relatively unusual court session was prompted by the residents’ petition.
The petitioners want Judge Marvin K. Blount to deny a conditional-use permit granted by the town in response to a request from the Quarterdeck Marina on Back Creek.
Blount will preside over a special session of Superior Court beginning at 10 a.m. Monday.
The proceeding will be held on the second floor of the Beaufort County Courthouse.
The eight residents petitioning the court are Douglas LeFevre and his wife Mary, William Fath and his wife Jerrie, David Wood II and his wife Nancy, and Walter Hawkins and his wife Dorothy.
All own property fronting the creek, court documents show.
Court records identify Fred Mattox as the attorney for the petitioners.
Mattox wasn’t available for comment this week.
Reached by telephone, Douglas LeFevre said he wasn’t at liberty to comment until after the court session.
John Baldwin, whose family owns and manages the Quarterdeck convenience store and marina, said the petitioning residents’ No. 1 objection is to his plan to install stairs to, and a deck on, the roof of the store.
If the court rules against the town and the Quarterdeck, Baldwin will be unable to install the deck and stairs.
He said the deck and stairs are necessary to attract customers and keep the store profitable during the cool off-season.
“The stairs have always been not so much for people to get off their boats on a 90-degree day and go and sit on the roof,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
The addition of stairs and other improvements are on hold pending the judge’s decision, he confirmed.
Baldwin said the petitioners also allege the marina is responsible for noise and light pollution, and the accumulation of trash, allegations he denies.
“They do not hear any noise from this place,” he said.
Bath Town Attorney Chip Edwards replied to questions from the Daily News via e-mail.
“The court reviews the documents evidencing the decision made by the Town Board of Commissioners to determine whether the Board’s conclusions were supported by the record,” Edwards wrote. “Arguments are expected to be made by all parties regarding the decision. Based upon those arguments, and the review of the record, the Court will then make a ruling on whether the decision made (was) proper.”
Court documents indicate the loser of this fight could be required to pay the winning parties’ court costs.
“The prevailing party is typically awarded costs of court (filing fees, etc.) as part of the order from the court,” Edwards wrote.
Last August, the town board voted unanimously in favor of the conditional-use permit, allowing the owners of the Quarterdeck to proceed by seeking the necessary approvals of state environmental agencies overseeing certain aspects of permitting for coastal projects.
The board endorsed a narrow compromise measure that signaled its favor of letting the owners repair 235 feet of bulkhead, widen a walkway around the on-site store and replace — but not extend — existing piers.
The board’s vote also allowed for the construction of stairs to, and a deck on, the roof of the store, provided no alcohol was to be served on the roof.
These conditions fell short of the vision of John Baldwin, described in one court paper as the manager of the Quarterdeck, and his wife Cindy Baldwin, who has described herself as the owner of the Quarterdeck.
The Baldwins have said they wanted to lengthen existing piers to enhance boater safety and access.
John Baldwin said he wanted to make the piers longer partly to ease congestion and keep boats from circling the creek while waiting for a place to tie up.
On Wednesday, Baldwin said he disagreed with the town’s ruling on the pier extensions, but added that he wasn’t contesting the ruling.
He noted the Quarterdeck has existed since 1959 and pointed out that, though his business has a bar license, the Baldwins don’t want to turn the store into a bar or night club.
“I sell ice cream to kids,” he said.
In their petition, the eight residents say the changes favored by the town board would “create an attractive nuisance that will lure additional visitors to the Quarterdeck property, by both car, boat and foot, resulting in obnoxious lights and sounds emitting from the Quarterdeck property into their residential properties and disturbing their peace and tranquility.”
The petition was filed at the courthouse on Oct. 15, 2009.
In response, the following month, the town moved to dismiss the action because, in its view, the petitioners’ had failed “to allege sufficient facts.”
The town also made a motion to strike all parts of the petition that didn’t appear in the record of the board’s meetings, including its quasi-judicial hearing on the conditional-use permit request.
Contacted Saturday, Mayor Jimmy Latham declined to comment on the issue.
“God knows, it’s a free country. Anybody can sue anybody,” Latham said.