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Fort v. County of Cumberland

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 19, 2014

SAMUEL and DORIS FORT, JULIA KATHERINE FAIRCLOTH, RAEFORD B. LOCKAMY, II, OK FARMS OF CEDAR CREEK, LLC, and ARNOLD DREW SMITH, Petitioners,
v.
COUNTY OF CUMBERLAND, North Carolina, and TIGERSWAN, INC., Respondents

Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 June 2014.

Editorial Note:

This Decision is not final until expiration of the twenty-one day rehearing period. [North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure 32(b)]

Appeal by respondents from order entered 23 October 2013 by Judge C. Winston Gilchrist in Cumberland County. No. 12 CVS 8440. McCULLOUGH, Judge.

Reversed.

Currin & Currin, by Robin T. CurrinMr. and George B. Currin, for petitioners.

Cumberland County Attorney's Office, by Robert A. Hasty, Jr.Mr., for respondent-appellant County of Cumberland.

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, by Charles C. MeekerMr., for respondent-appellant TigerSwan, Inc.

McCULLOUGH, Judge. Judges STEPHENS and STROUD concur.

OPINION

Page 745

Respondents TigerSwan, Inc., and Cumberland County appeal an order of the trial court, reversing a decision made by Cumberland County's Board of Adjustment that the TigerSwan facility is permitted in the A1 Zoning District and remanding with instructions to revoke the site plan approval and zoning permit for the TigerSwan facility. Based on the reasons stated herein, we reverse the order of the trial court.

I. Background

The Cumberland County zoning ordinance at issue in this appeal was originally adopted on 3 July 1972, revised 20 June 2005, and amended on 18 April 2011 ("the zoning ordinance"). Article IV, Section 402, entitled "Uses by Right" provides as follows:

All uses of property are allowed as a use by right except where this ordinance specifies otherwise or where this ordinance specifically prohibits the use. In the event, a use of property is proposed that is not addressed by the terms of this ordinance, the minimum ordinance standards for the use addressed by this ordinance that is most closely related to the land use impacts of the proposed use shall apply.

Article IV, Section 403 of the zoning ordinance includes a "Use Matrix" which enumerates permitted and special land uses, as well as some land uses allowed only in a conditional zoning district. The following land uses are enumerated in the "Use Matrix" and are pertinent to the case before us:

Page 746

"RECREATION/AMUS[E]MENT OUTDOOR (with mechanized vehicle operations) conducted outside building for profit, not otherwise listed & not regulated by Sec. 924" ("recreation/amusement") which is a permitted use in the A1 zoning district; "SCHOOLS, public, private, elementary or secondary" ("public or private school") which is a permitted use in the A1 zoning district; and a "SCHOOL, business and commercial for nurses or other medically oriented professions, trade, vocational & fine arts" ("vocational school") which is not a permitted use in the A1 zoning district.

TigerSwan, Inc. ("TigerSwan") submitted a site plan application to the County of Cumberland ("County") requesting approval for a "Training Collaboration Center" ("the TigerSwan facility"). The TigerSwan facility leases a 978 acre site which sits on a 1,521 acre parcel. The entire site is located in the A1 Agricultural District of the County. Evidence in the record established that the TigerSwan facility would be designed to provide weapons training and firearm safety primarily to the government, military, law enforcement, and corporate organizations. One day a week, the TigerSwan facility would be open to the public. Ninety-five (95%) percent of the activity at the TigerSwan facility would occur on the outdoor gun ranges. TigerSwan intends to have a pro-shop, buildings for instruction, administrative offices, and restrooms.

On 9 April 2012, the County's Planning and Inspections Department ("the Planning Department") issued a site plan approval for the TigerSwan facility. The Planning Department held that the TigerSwan facility was permitted as a recreation/amusement land use. The Planning Department also issued a zoning permit to TigerSwan on 17 April 2012.

Petitioners Samuel and Doris Fort, Julia Katherine Faircloth, Raeford B. Lockamy, II, OK Farms of Cedar Creek, LLC, and Arnold Drew Smith appealed the issuance of the permit to the Cumberland County Board of Adjustment ("the Board"). Specifically, petitioners challenged the approval of the TigerSwan facility by arguing that the County's zoning administrator's classification of the TigerSwan facility as a recreation/amusement land use was erroneous. Petitioners argued that the County had never taken the position that the TigerSwan facility be permitted as recreation/amusement and that the Planning Department's determination was in direct conflict with the County's previous position, as set forth in Fort v. County of Cumberland, 218 N.C.App. 401, 721 S.E.2d 350 (2012) ("Fort"), that the TigerSwan facility be classified as a "private school."

Petitioners relied on our Court's holding in Fort. In Fort, TigerSwan sought approval of a "firearms training facility." Id. at 403, 721 S.E.2d at 352. Our Court found that TigerSwan

[i]ntends to provide instruction to military, law enforcement, and security personnel in topics such as weapons training, urban warfare, convoy security operations, and "[w]arrior [c]ombatives" in order to "teach, coach, and mentor tomorrow's soldiers." TigerSwan also intends to provide courses on topics such as first aid, firearm and hunting safety, and foreign languages for adults and children.

Id. The site plan included multiple firing ranges in addition to classroom facilities. Id. The Cumberland County zoning administrator approved TigerSwan's site plan by classifying the business as a "private school." Id. Petitioners Samuel and Doris Fort, Julia Katherine Faircloth, and Raeford B. Lockamy, II, appealed the approval of the site plan and the Board affirmed the decision of the zoning administrator. Id. at 401-405, 721 S.E.2d at 352-53. After the Fort petitioners appealed to the superior court, the trial court held that the training facility was a permitted use in the A1 zoning district. Id. at 404-405, 721 S.E.2d at 353. The Fort petitioners appealed to our Court. Under section 402 of the then-existing zoning ordinance [1], our Court held that the TigerSwan facility was not a "private school" and that the TigerSwan facility was not a permitted use in the

Page 747

A1 zoning district. Id. at 407, 721 S.E.2d at 354. Using rules of statutory construction, our Court reasoned that the "schools, public, private, elementary or secondary" category in the zoning ordinance limited permissible schools, private and public, to elementary and secondary education. "[T]he inclusion of 'elementary or secondary' in the description of permissible schools was intended to exclude other types of 'SCHOOLS,' whether they be private or public." Id. at 407, 721 S.E.2d at 355. Our Court stated that "[w]ithout deciding whether the Training Facility qualifies as either a trade or vocational school, we conclude that the Training Facility is not a permitted use as it is not a public or private, elementary or secondary school." Id.

On 10 July 2012, the Board held a hearing on the issue of whether "the staff of the Cumberland County Planning Department erred by failing to classify the use of the site for the [TigerSwan facility] as a vocational school within one of the School land uses." The Board ...


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