Canton wins Camp Hope case on appeal

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 16, 2014
Camp Hope is the sight on numerous community get-togethers, including the Shining Rock Riverfest scheduled again for this fall.

The town of Canton was victorious in its quest to retain control of Camp Hope in an appellate court ruling handed down this week.

Camp Hope is 110 acres of property just off the Blue Ridge Parkway with rustic cabins, riverfront property and picnic areas as well as a large covered pavilion and mess hall facility. It was turned over to the town in 1972 as part of a Champion International gift to the YMCA, which would revert to the town in the event the organization ceased to operate in the county.

After purchasing an adjacent piece of land, George and Deborah Prelaz received reverter rights to Camp Hope, meaning that if the land was being misused according to the original deed, the ownership could revert to them. The couple claimed that had happened when the town leased the property to an out-of-state company that ran a camp there and filed a lawsuit against the town to gain control of the property.

The town won a May 13, 2013 jury trial, but the Prelazs appealed the case.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled this week that the trial court erred in May 2013 in denying the town’s motion for a directed verdict.

In the trial case, the Prelazs argued the summer camp operation violated the conditions of the grant and contended they should become owners of the property.

The N.C. Court of Appeals disagreed.

The deed placed 17 express conditions on how the land was to be used, the ruling stated, and the plaintiffs didn’t contend any of the conditions were violated. Instead, they relied on wording elsewhere in the deed about operating a summer camp, verbiage the town argued was merely advisory. The appellate court agreed with the town.

Burton Smith, the town’s attorney in the case, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"It was a 3-0 opinion, which has some importance," he said. "We are very happy to get the opinion."

The Camp Hope legal issues are still not over. The Prelazs have filed a second lawsuit, which the town must defend, and still have the opportunity to take the appellate court loss to the N.C. Supreme Court.

The town spent $130,000 arguing the case during the jury trial.