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Tree-Cutting Lands RV Park Developer in Court

November 18, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Work along the Gateway Trail in western North Carolina figures in today's court battle.

Pine tree stumps line one side of a small silt fence. On the other side is a gravel path – the Gateway Trail.

The distance can be covered on foot in seconds. But for one Kings Mountain, N.C., family, that distance means the difference between illegal activity and the rightful acts of a property owner, The Shelby Star reported.

Mike Brown and his son, Preston Brown, are fighting Cleveland County in a land dispute involving several acres along the Gateway Trail’s current location in Kings Mountain, located 30 miles west of Charlotte. The Browns are creating a recreational vehicle park on parts of their property along South Battleground Avenue and Raven Drive. Now, the county’s judicial system is involved.

A Cleveland County sheriff’s deputy served Mike Brown with a criminal summons Nov. 7, three days after he allegedly cut down county-owned trees valued at more than $200.

He is scheduled for a first appearance in court today (Nov. 18).

Dispute

Mike Brown is charged with causing injury to personal property, a misdemeanor. He “unlawfully and willfully did wantonly injure personal property, trees, the property of Cleveland County,” according to the criminal summons. Cleveland County Planning Director Bill McCarter is listed as the complainant.

On the Cleveland County criminal complaint form, McCarter wrote that Mike Brown cut timber on a public easement in violation of an agreement filed with the county’s register of deeds. Mike Brown allegedly violated the county’s easement rights, which say the property owner can cut down trees or disturb resources on the easement only to protect against “an unreasonable risk of harm to persons on or about the Trail area.”

Mike Brown doesn’t dispute that he cut down five or six pine trees near the Gateway Trail. He argues that the trees are on his property and had to be cut down to make room for a state-mandated sediment pond to control erosion while construction on the site continues.

“Those trees are not theirs,” Mike Brown said.

The trail

The Browns’ roughly 57 acres of land has a tax value of $636,467, which includes $30,067 of building value, according to Cleveland County tax records. Running in between the Brown property and the Chemetall Foote Corp. is the Gateway Trail.

But Mike Brown says the Gateway Trail is in the wrong place, straying away from the Chemetall Foote property line and onto his land. Cleveland County has a 50-foot easement — 25 feet in either direction from the center of the trail — along the property surrounding the trail, McCarter said.

McCarter doesn’t deny that the trail is on the Brown property. He said, however, that Mike Brown purchased the property with the trail already in place and, therefore, “inherits” the conditions of the land and existing 50-foot easement.

The previous owner of Mike Brown’s property, the Kings Mountain Consortium for Progress, signed an easement agreement with Cleveland County on Nov. 23, 2010, according to records on file with the Cleveland County Register of Deeds. Mike Brown purchased that property from the Consortium for Progress on May 20, property records show. He paid $95,000 for the 57.522 acres, according to the register of deeds.

Mike Brown said the county offered him $1,600 an acre for the roughly four acres in question. According to McCarter, the county offered to buy the property from Mike Brown at the same price per acre he paid for it. Mike Brown turned down the offer, saying it didn’t represent the land‘s value.

Preston Brown says is family is being unfairly targeted by Cleveland County and Kings Mountain officials who want to stop progress on the Browns’ RV park.

“It’s like you just can’t win with them,” Preston Brown said.

Erosion control

The Browns contend that the trees needed to be cut down to make room for the state-mandated silt pond to control erosion while construction continues on their RV park.

Zahid Khan, an engineer with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) , said Thursday that Mike Brown is required to install erosion-control measures on his property while construction is ongoing. The sediment-catching ponds must be at low-lying points on the property, Khan said.

But NCDENR is flexible with property owners about where those sediment ponds are constructed, according to Khan.

“If he wants to move those ponds, he can as long as he submits the plan to us,” Khan said.

The department’s main concern with installing the sediment ponds is erosion control. Khan said it’s not uncommon for NCDENR to work with property owners and move their sediment ponds as much as 200 feet in one direction or another.

“(The dispute) is between the county and Mr. Brown,” Khan said.

Mike Brown maintains his innocence and said cutting down the trees was within his right as a property owner. He intends to fight the charges and has hired an attorney to handle his case.

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