Court Upholds Ruling on Village Green
Pinehurst residents who opposed an expansion of The Village Chapel lost a court appeal Tuesday that sought to block the project.
The residents, who live near the Village Green, had argued that the Pinehurst Resort erred when it waived a covenant barring construction. The Chapel a few years ago proposed a building project on its own land.
The nondenominational church wanted to build a 6,500-square-foot learning center that would accommodate the congregation and serve other community organizations.
Opponents of the expansion argued that it would cause traffic and parking problems, disturb the historical nature of the area, and harm property values. They also argued that the expansion is part of the Chapel's desire to build a school.
Chapel representatives repeatedly said that the expansion would be used to meet the space needs of its growing congregation and that it would not be used as a school. The project has long since been on hold.
A three-judge panel with the state Court of Appeals sided with Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb in turning down the residents' appeal.
In its 18-page written opinion, the appeals court found that the plaintiffs weren't qualified even to pursue their complaint. Just because they own property near the area covered by the old restrictions didn't give them any rights to the covenant's enforcement, the court said.
Mike Newman, one of the attorneys defending in the case, said that decision was the most important part of the ruling.
"There is no law in North Carolina that says you can enforce restrictive covenants in deeds to which you were not a party," Newman said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. "The law is so well-settled that I am surprised people are even arguing about this."
The restriction was part of two gift deeds from the resort to The Village Chapel and to the town. In the early days of Pinehurst, founder Leonard Tufts set aside 15 acres in the middle for a Village Green. Over the years since the founding of Pinehurst in 1895, bits and pieces of that original tract were conveyed to various subsequent owners.
In 1982, Pinehurst Inc. conveyed a two-acre tract of the Village Green to The Village Chapel. The next year the resort gave the rest of the Village Green - 7.2 acres - to the village of Pinehurst.
Both gift deeds contained the following identical restriction on the construction of any building or permanent structure on the land:
"Grantee may not erect any building or permanent structure on the above described property and Grantee shall only use the property for access purposes, unpaved parking or as a naturally landscaped area, which conditions shall be appurtenant to and pass with the title to the property and for which any violation may be enforced by Grantor through injunctive relief."
In 2008, the resort released The Village Chapel from the restriction on construction on the part of the old Village Green given in 1982. The following year it released the town from the same restriction on its 7.2 acres that had been part of the green.
On Sept. 27, 2011, Michael J. McCrann, Kelly C. McCrann, Henry W. Dirkmaat, Larilyn L. Dirkmaat, Robert C. Anderson Jr., and Anne M. Anderson sued Pinehurst, LLC, the village of Pinehurst and Village Chapel Inc.
They claimed those "purported waivers" created confusion as to whether the restrictive covenants were still in effect. They asked Webb to rule that the 2008 and 2009 waivers were ineffective. McCrann and the others contended that they and other adjacent landowners were the intended beneficiaries of those restrictions on construction.
They also contended that the resort's waivers had resulted in a devaluation of their properties, for which they sought compensation.
The appeals court dismissed any claim to such standing, finding that no such right exists for anybody not actually a party to any such deeds.
"Because we conclude that plaintiffs do not have standing to maintain the underlying action, we affirm the trial court's order," the Court of Appeals said. "Plaintiffs were not parties to the deeds in which the restrictive covenants were created. Plaintiffs are not successors in title or interest to the land burdened or benefited by the restrictive covenants."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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