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.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 17, 2014 11:33

Why doesn't the town sell the property?  Why would the citizens of Canton want to use their public resources to own, manage, and potentially be a landlord to folks that rent the facility?  Is that the kind of thing we want our government doing instead of better keeping up the libraries and police force?  Add to that the $130k price tag (and counting).

 

There are camps all over the mountains in other counties.  If the town could make a deal with another well-functioning camp elsewhere that might be leasing space, perhaps that well-functioning camp could be enticed to move to Canton and bring its business to town in exchange for a good deal on some prime real estate. 

 

If there is some kind deed restriction that makes that a little tricky, I'll bet it could be remedied for less than what was already spent in legal fees.

 

Or maybe the good citizens of Canton might want the government to setup a government-operated ice cream store to go with the camp.  :-)



Posted by: jessi stone | Jul 18, 2014 15:28

http://themountaineer.villagesoup.com/p/camp-hope-then-and-now/989307

http://themountaineer.villagesoup.com/p/canton-in-legal-battle-to-keep-camp-hope/834220

Scott, these links will give you some more background on the deed restrictions. The town can't sell Camp Hope. And with all the history attached to it, why would the town want to? That land is priceless as far as I'm concerned. If you haven't been out there, I highly recommend it. A Camp Hope Commission has been established to explore best uses of the property and facilities. I think establishing and maintaining public parks has been a good use of tax dollars on the federal, state and local levels.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 21, 2014 16:37

Thanks.  Those links are very informative and got me up to speed.

 

I'd bet the right lawyer could figure out how to sell it if that became a desire.  What a shame a new YMCA can't restore the camp to its original purpose and use with better management.

 

I agree public parks are a proper role of government.  I was under the impression (perhaps mistakenly) that this real estate might be leased to various entities.  Thereby the government would take more of a role of "landlord".  If that kind of thinking were to be exploited, you could imagine a town "owning" an entire city and just leasing space to tenants.  Don't laugh at that idea.  The City of Greensboro has imminent domain powers in a growing section of the city.  They can "take" any property in select areas they don't like in the name of "rehabilitation".  (And according to the Supreme Court recently, that's quite "legal" -- an opinion with which I do not agree.)

 

With governments having more pressure to downsize, questioning any public-owned property I think is a good thing to do.



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