Moore County will appeal the ruling of Superior Court Judge Michael A. Stone regarding its claim of a 20-foot utility easement along a property line at 55 Palmetto Road in Pinehurst.
County Attorney Misty Leland said the Moore County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 on Tuesday to appeal the County of Moore v. Randy Acres and Soek Yie Phan Superior Court decision granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
"The County believes it has strong arguments to present to the N.C. Court of Appeals in addition to its compelling interest in protecting the integrity of its public enterprise system. The County must be able to access its infrastructure which includes approximately two million feet of water and sewer lines in Pinehurst alone that provide water and sewer to residents and businesses of the Village. Maintenance and repair records demonstrate both the need for keeping natural and man-made intrusions from causing damage to the infrastructure and the need for Public Works’ Crews to quickly access infrastructure when lines break, sewer back-ups occur, or other urgent repairs are needed," Leland stated.
The county initially filed suit against property owners, Acres and his wife, in June 2019, arguing that a fence installed on the back of their property blocks the county from assessing the water and sewer lines, as well as a manhole.
Acres has owned the property since 2004. He had the fence installed along the rear property line in the spring of 2019 after a dispute with neighbors who had built a garage and guesthouse on an adjoining lot.
The suit noted Acres and his wife ignored repeated warnings by the county not to install the fence, which stems from a dispute between Acres and neighbors over a garage that was constructed to access the alley.
Changes in the property owners’ lawyers and an unsuccessful attempt in early 2020 to move the case to federal court had somewhat hampered and delayed the lawsuit’s progress.
Last month, both the county and homeowners finally moved for a resolution. In an order dated May 13, Superior Court Judge Michael A. Stone ruled in favor of the homeowners.
The fence blocks one end of a gravel alley that runs between homes on Village Green East and Laurel Road. Residents have used that alley for decades to access their garages, and the Village of Pinehurst uses it to collect garbage from the houses.
Complicating the case, though, is the dubious provenance of the utility lines in question — installed by a contractor hired either by the Tufts family or Pinehurst, Inc. — and of any associated easement. Leonard Tufts once owned the property now known as 55 Palmetto Road, but sold it in 1918.
The sewer lines were installed in 1948, followed in 1965 by the water lines, but legal filings refer to the installer only as “The Corporation.” That is not in and of itself uncommon.
Pinehurst is home to several private alleyways and “unrecorded easements” for utility lines left over from the Tufts era. Deeds that the Tufts family conveyed for many of the village’s original lots date to the early 1900s and require that those alleys remain open as rights-of-way for general public use.
The county sued Acres and his wife based on the premise that there would have been an easement declared when that infrastructure was put in place, and that those rights would have transferred to the county along with the utilities themselves.
Superior Court Judge Stone said that the county never sufficiently proved that such an easement ever existed or that any entity pursued one in line with the state laws at the time the lines were put in.