Unanimous Ruling on Zoning Determination at NC Court of Appeals

19 Jan 2024 10:00 AM | Lynette Pitt (Administrator)

Trey Ferguson won a unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel at the North Carolina Court of Appeals on an appeal from a zoning determination. The case, Town of La Grange v. Lenoir County, et al., No. COA 23-49, was heard on oral argument in November, and the Court issued a published opinion on January 2, 2024. The case involved questions of statutory construction related to the County’s zoning ordinance and a private landowner’s proposed use of its property under the same.

The landowner, Copart of Connecticut Inc., intended to use the property for its business of auctioning damaged and undamaged vehicles for insurance companies, licensed dealers, financial institutions, charities, and municipalities. A Lenoir County zoning official classified the proposed use as “auction sales” under the County’s Zoning Ordinance. The abutting property owner, the Town of LaGrange, appealed that classification to the County Planning Board. The Town argued that the proposed use was more akin to a junkyard than to auction sales, and thus not permitted in the specific zone. After the Planning Board and, subsequently, the Superior Court affirmed the proposed use’s classification as “auction sales,” the Town appealed to the State Court of Appeals.

In defending Lenoir County in the appeal, Trey argued that a strict construction of the County’s zoning ordinance supported the Planning Board’s and Superior Court’s determination that the proposed land use was more like “auction sales” than a junkyard. In affirming the classification, the Court of Appeals renewed its general rule that “the law favors uninhibited free use of private property over governmental restrictions,” and thus required strict construction of local governments’ zoning ordinances in favor of the free use of land.

Trey is an associate attorney as Sumrell Sugg, P.A., in New Bern and is a member of the NCADA’s Government Lawyers steering committee.

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