Proposed Village Green Plan Prompts Threat of Suit
A Pinehurst homeowner says he will sue the village if it decides to move ahead with enhancing the Village Green beyond small improvements, contending they would be illegal.
Florida attorney James Spoonhour, who owns a home across the street from the property, wrote a letter to Village Manager Andy Wilkison that asks the village to "reconsider the course on which it currently appears headed."
"If the village proceeds with approval and/or implementation of any plans to modify the Village Green along the lines that have been discussed," he wrote, "I will have no choice but to file suit to seek injunctive relief to stop such actions as well as to seek damages for the diminishment in the value of my property.
"If the village elects to proceed, it is my opinion that this would also be a taking of valuable property rights without just compensation as required by the [Fifth] and [14th] Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which would also authorize the filing of a suit under Section 40A-51 of the North Carolina Statutes."
Spoonhour suggested that a class-action lawsuit including "all property owners in Pinehurst who are all beneficiaries of the historical design of which their properties are a part" could be appropriate.
A village commission has been studying the desirability of enhancing the unoccupied 7.3 acres of the Green for months. In May, it recommended that some sort of improvement would be beneficial to the village.
At that time, the Village Council expanded the commission and authorized it to begin seeking proposals from landscape architects as part of a "design competition" to determine the best option. Six firms submitted designs to be considered. All of them include the addition of a public lawn area on the property, and some incorporate a gazebo and additional parking.
On Friday, the commission held two public input sessions so residents could review and comment on the proposals. The commission will make a recommendation to the council based on that input.
Village Attorney Mike Newman said Wednesday that Spoonhour's letter was "premature," as the village hasn't determined how it will proceed with the Green yet.
"We've done nothing more than establish a committee to take citizen input to see how they'd like to see the Village Green best utilized," he said.
Spoonhour contended in a phone interview Wednesday that the changes can't be carried out legally. He cited a 1983 deed of gift that transferred ownership of the property from Pinehurst Inc. -- then the owner of the resort -- to the village. The deed states that the village "may not erect any building or permanent structure" on the property and that it may only be used for "access purposes, unpaved parking or as a naturally landscaped area."
But Newman maintains that there aren't any restrictions on the property. In a section of the commission's May report he authored, he wrote that Pinehurst LLC was a successor in interest to Clubcorp, which succeeded Pinehurst Inc.
Furthermore, representatives of Pinehurst LLC have informed the village that it has "no intention of attempting to enforce the restrictions, and will cooperate with the village on any proposal approved by the Village Council," he wrote.
Spoonhour disagrees with Newman's interpretation, calling it "convoluted logic," and doesn't view Pinehurst LLC as a successor to Pinehurst Inc. He said Pinehurst LLC has no authority to change the deed because it never owned the property.
"I have litigated real estate issues for 36 years and can state with certainty that [Newman's] interpretation and analysis is flawed," he wrote. "If I were representing the village, I certainly would not recommend proceeding on such a thin rationale."
Spoonhour said that he would be supportive of small additions to the Village Green, including improving its paths, the installation of park benches, adding trash receptacles with bags for dog waste, "selective" maintenance of the pine trees, and the addition of flowering trees around the park's perimeter.
He argued that going beyond that "likely violates the intent of the design and would be detrimental to the property owners who are beneficiaries of the design."
Spoonhour also said changes could leave little room for trees, create parking problems and may not even be utilized.
"I dont think it will realistically bring business," he said by phone. "I think it will ruin what is a passive greenspace."
Newman said Spoonhour would have just as much opportunity to express his opinion of the Village Green as any other resident, but he wouldn't be able to stand in the way of enhancements if the rest of the community supports them.
"He doesn't have a veto power over what the village of Pinehurst decides to do with it," he said. "That's based on citizen input and he'll have just as much input as everyone else."
Newman didn't seem bothered by the threat of legal action.
"He's free to file whatever lawsuit he wants to file and I'll have it dismissed," he said.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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