Currituck to seek dismissal of park fees suit

Ike McRee.jpeg

Currituck County Attorney Ike McRee


By Sandy Semans Ross

Thursday, February 7, 2019

CURRITUCK — A lawsuit targeting Currituck County’s new beach parking permit ordinance heads back to court next month amid news that fees it authorizes raised enough revenue this past summer — more than $341,000 — to offset the ordinance’s enforcement costs.

The lawsuit filed last June by the Virginia Four Wheel Drive Association against the county’s new parking permit fee system is scheduled for a motions hearing in Currituck Superior Court in March. County Attorney Ike McRee said this week Currituck will ask a judge at the hearing for a summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit.

Under the fee system the lawsuit targets, non-Currituck residents who want to park on a specific segment of the county’s northern beaches north of Corolla are charged $50 for a 10-day parking pass and $150 for a seasonal parking pass. The fees took effect the Friday before Memorial Day and ended at 11:59 p.m. on Labor Day.

The parking permit system was created in March 2018 in response to concerns about increasing vehicle traffic in the county’s off-road area starting a mile and a half north of the North Beach Ramp at Milepost 13 and continuing to Albatross Lane at Milepost 17. Beach-goers typically are concentrated in the area.

County residents and property owners, like non-county residents, must obtain a parking permit but are exempt from the fees. They receive parking permits for each vehicle they own, and residents who live full-time in the off-road area north of the North Beach Ramp are eligible for two additional guest permits.

In its lawsuit, the Virginia Four Wheel Drive Association described the county’s imposition of the parking fees as “outrageous and reckless” and claimed they “were committed knowingly and voluntarily with malicious and discriminatory intent” against non-Currituck residents. The lawsuit also sought a temporary restraining order that would have prohibited the county from continuing to collect the fees until a hearing could be held on the association’s demand for a permanent court order ending enforcement.

In August 2018, McRee filed a response denying the association’s allegations and asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. Later that month, Pitt County Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster denied the association’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the parking pass system.

While the lawsuit waits for resolution, reported revenues from the parking permit fees are drawing smiles from county officials.

At its recent retreat, the Currituck Board of Commissioners discussed a request from the Currituck Sheriff’s Office for funds to purchase an additional Jeep to use patrolling the off-road area north of Corolla subject to the beach parking permits.

Currituck officials were advised that the county’s enforcement costs during the permit system’s inaugural year — $62,998 for officers and $111,000 spent on three Jeeps — were paid for with county tourism funds. Revenues collected from the permits during the first year totaled $341,015 and were deposited into the county’s general fund. What that means, according to county officials, is that the permit fees raised annually should be able to offset enforcement expenses without the county having to tap into tourism funds.