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'Mega-cottage' ruling reversed

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Barry Ward
Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CURRITUCK – The N.C. Court of Appeals has sided with a Currituck couple who sued to halt construction of a mega-sized cottage on Currituck County’s Outer Banks, reversing a lower court decision in the case. 

The three-judge panel unanimously agreed Tuesday that a Superior Court was wrong in 2014 when he upheld the Currituck Board of Adjustment’s decision to allow construction of a 15,000-square-foot cottage to go forward based on the definition of a single-family dwelling in the county’s unified development ordinance.

The Currituck board of adjustment said the house proposed by Elizabeth Letendre fit the definition of a single-family dwelling in the county’s UDO. However, Currituck residents Michael and Marie Long disagreed and filed suit in 2014 to halt its construction, naming Currituck County and Letendre as defendants.

In their lawsuit, Long v. Currituck County and Letendre, the Longs claimed the larger-than-normal house proposed at 1441 Ocean Pearl Road, Corolla, would block their view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Letendre’s plans called for construction of a 5,000-square-foot, three-story building that featured cooking, sanitary and sleeping facilities. Two additional two-story side buildings, both 5,000 square-feet each, were to be built next to the main building. All three buildings were to be connected by conditioned hallways so they could be used as one unit.

Raleigh-based attorney George B. Currin, representing the Longs, argued in the lawsuit that the proposed structure could not be built in an area zoned for single-family dwellings because it was not a single unit.

In its ruling issued Tuesday, the appeals court agreed.

The opinion, written by Court of Appeals Judge Donna S. Stroud, states that while Planning Director Ben Woody determined that the three buildings together function as one principal structure, even if they were functionally used as one dwelling unit, “each individual building (was) itself a 'structure.'”

The county's UDO describes a single-family dwelling as a residential building containing not more than one dwelling unit to be occupied by one family, and not physically attached to any other principal structure.

The appellate court, which heard arguments in the case in April 2015, noted that buildings under Currituck’s UDO are “necessarily either an ‘accessory structure’ or a principal structure.” However, neither Currituck nor Letendre argued that the side buildings would be accessory structures, the court said.

“They argue only that the entire project functions as one 'principal structure,'” Stroud’s ruling states.

While the UDO doesn’t define what a principal structure is, it does “define 'accessory structures' as 'subordinate in use and square footage' to a principal structure,” the opinion said. The court noted that because each of the three proposed buildings would be of equal square footage, one would not be subordinate to the other.

“This would mean that each building is a principal structure,” Stroud said, putting the project at odds with the UDO’s definition of a single-family dwelling.

During a Superior Court hearing in the lawsuit in 2014, Grandy-based attorney Greg Wills, representing Letendre, and Currituck County Attorney Ike McRee argued that covered walkways linking the buildings met the county’s definition of a single-family dwelling.

Superior Court Judge Cy A. Grant upheld the Board of Adjustment’s decision that Letendre’s proposed cottage did not violate Currituck’s regulations.

Asked about the appellate court’s ruling Tuesday overturning Grant’s decision, McRee said he did not have any comment.

McRee said he believes the court's decision was narrow, and the county will be reviewing its ordinance to see if it needs to be amended.

Currituck Commission Chairman David Griggs said he doesn't know what the next move for the county and Letendre will be following the appellate court’s ruling.

Griggs said he believes Letendre will have to address the structural particulars of her proposed cottage because that was the basis of the court's ruling.

The Longs and Letendre could not be reached for comment Wednesday on Tuesday's ruling.

Wills and Currin did not return messages to comment on the decision.

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