Camp Hope case heads to appeals court

By DeeAnna Haney | Aug 13, 2013

The saga of Canton’s battle to keep Camp Hope is ongoing as the case heads to the state court of appeals.

Though the town won a weeks-long trial in May against an Asheville couple seeking possession of the 100-plus acre property, the town could still lose it in the long run.

John and Deborah Prelaz filed for appeal Thursday afternoon, but their purported grounds for the appeal have not yet been filed.

During trial, the Prelazs claimed the town did not follow the original deed to the land, which pointed out several conditions regarding the way the property was to be used.

The Prelazs' chief complaint was that the town operated a summer camp primarily for the benefit of residents outside of Haywood County when they leased the property to Wellspring Adventure Camp, LLC, a summer weight loss camp. The plaintiffs also claimed the property had not always been open to the public, although the deed stated it should be.

Town attorneys brought forth several witnesses who claimed the property had always been open to the public, even while Wellspring was operating the camp.

A jury ultimately decided the town did not violate the deed, allowing the town to keep possession of the property. The Prelazs filed for a retrial following the court’s ruling, but the same judge denied the motion in July. The couple seized the opportunity to appeal the case by the deadline Aug. 2.

Now the case will go to the NC Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel will review the facts of the case and check for any errors that may have been made during trial.

So far, the town has spent about $80,000 in legal fees on the lawsuit that began in May 2011. Because of the appeal, more money will be coming out of town coffers.

Town Manager Al Matthews said news of the appeal did not come as a surprise. He said the town will be paying for paperwork and briefs as the case makes its way to the appeals court.

Efforts by an organization called Friends of Camp Hope to spruce up and care for the property will not be thwarted by the appeal and scheduled events by the community can still occur, Matthews said.