Judge sides with surfer, declares Town of Duck beach access open to the public

Bob Hovey has long contended that a beach access in the Town of Duck is public, despite the town’s assertion that it has no public accesses to the Atlantic Ocean. [Bob Hovey photo]

A local man whose trespassing arrest at a Duck beach access last year sparked a social media frenzy has won his long battle to have the walkway to the Atlantic Ocean declared a public access.

The trespassing trial for Bob Hovey, owner of Duck Village Outfitters, was delayed earlier this year awaiting the results of his lawsuit challenging the Sand Dollar Shores homeowner’s association assertion that the access at Sea Breeze Drive is private.

In a ruling issued Feb. 14, N.C. Superior Court Judge Lamont Wiggins ruled that the beach access is indeed a dedicated public easement, as Hovey has argued for years.

Hovey videotaped his confrontations with property owners and police at the access in May 2019, and they quickly went viral.

From there, Hovey launched a fundraising campaign to help pay for his court challenge.

“Tanya and I would like to thank everyone who supported the fight for public beach access especially our attorneys Gregg Wills, Angelea Norcross, and their staffs,” Hovey said in a Saturday Facebook post. “It’s been a long struggle but the public can now enjoy the beach in Duck, NC on the Outer Banks.”

In a statement issued Saturday, the Town of Duck said it  did not take a position on the summary judgment motion heard by the court on Feb. 10, and in a consent order, reaffirmed that the dispute was between Hovey and the Sand Dollar Shores homeowner’s association.

“The Consent Order further confirms that the Town agreed to abide by the Court’s ultimate decision whether the Hoveys or the HOA prevailed, and Judge Wiggins’ order recognizes that agreement,” the town’s statement said. “The Town will continue to observe the proceedings to see whether the HOA decides to appeal Judge Wiggins’ decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.”

In his lawsuit filed in Dare County Superior Court, Hovey contended that the shoulders and sidewalks adjacent to the beach access and the beach adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean are “all indisputably public lands that anyone can use without permission from a private citizen adjoining said lands.”

But, according to the suit, the homeowners of Sand Dollar Shores in 2015 signed a covenant declaration claiming to make the beach access a common area for exclusive use of HOA members.

Hovey’s lawsuit argued that back in 1981, when the roads and easements in Sand Dollar Shores were dedicated to the public, individual lot owners were without authority to declare the beach access private. The suit says the Town of Duck has an “affirmative duty to protect the public’s right to use said easement instead of enforcing HOA’s claims.”

In his ruling, Judge Wiggins said the court “having considered … the stipulations of the plaintiffs and the HOA, the arguments of counsel … and all material submitted to the court … does herby order, adjudicate and decree that plaintiff’s motion for summary judgement is granted and it is declared that the “8” pedestrian beach access easement shown on the plat of the Sand Dollar Shores subdivision is an easement dedicated to the general public and accepted by Dare County for the purpose of providing pedestrian access to the Atlantic Ocean beach held in the public trust by the state of North Carolina.”

Attorneys for the Sand Dollar Shores association were not immediately available for comment Saturday. Pending any appeal, the judge ordered the court’s ruling to be entered into the Dare County registry.

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.

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