After court hearing, Wilmington Water Tours can stay on the Riverwalk

    After court hearing, Wilmington Water Tours can stay on the Riverwalk

    It’s an unusual sight for 70 people to gather in a court hallway on the fourth floor. Normally the space is reserved for small groups of attorneys, clients, and family members to have furtive conversations outside the courtroom.

    But Wednesday morning, the room was packed, the AC system struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of folks who came to support Doug Springer, the co-owner of Wilmington Water Tours. He says he was overwhelmed and overjoyed with the support.

    “I know they’re this room’s full, and I know they’re standing outside, so maybe 100 plus,” Springer said.

    Springer’s business got wrapped into a lawsuit almost incidentally, and a judge last month found in favor of the HOA that filed suit.

    “A lawsuit was brought against the owner of our docks where we are, and we were not allowed to be represented in that lawsuit,” he said.

    Springer says that slip owner, Martin Gallan, rented out one of the slips to a yacht owner a few years ago, drawing the ire of the HOA.

    “The lawsuit was against the owner of the docks, Martin Gallan, and the intent, what they were really trying to accomplish was a big yacht came in and blocked the view of the HOA vice president,” Springer said. “But of course, you can’t sue for that. So they’ve tried everything, Nuisance Complaints. So they finally hung their hat on the CAMA permit, which was a blanket permit issued for all of downtown Wilmington.”

    Springer’s Attorney, Tracy Yarborough, said, “Part of the CAMA permit was that there could be no renters, and the boats had to be transient. That permit expired, the city let their permit expire too.”

    Officials still haven’t provided clear guidance on the rules, but Yarborough argues that Springer’s river tour business has been, and should continue to be, acceptable under the permit because it provides public access to the river.

    Both parties argued before Superior Court Judge Jessica Locklear, with Wilmington Water Tours asking for a stay of action against it while Gallan appeals last month’s decision.

    Judge Locklear decided to create a carveout for the tour company, allowing it to continue its prior operations until the appeal is decided. However, the slip owner isn’t allowed to rent out slips to any other transient renters.

    Yarborough said it’s a win, “We’re pleased that Wilmington Water Tours will stay in a business. That was our goal.”

    She said she’s hoping to come to a resolution with the attorneys for the HOA, and that the tour company will comply with any order that come forward in order to stay in business.

    The case may also have implications for several bills under consideration in the legislature, focused on regulating the tremendous power wielded by HOAs.

    “Well, I think our legislature is trying to curb the power of some of the HOA boards people get elected and sometimes, as human nature allows they go with their own personal agendas instead of that in the best interest of the community. So my understanding of the of the the legislation that is being considered is to sort of help curb that power,” Yarborough said.

    Springer said he would like to see limitations on HOA power. He’s a condo owner under the HOA in question, and was a member of the board for five years until 2020. He said it’s frustrating to see his HOA fees used for what he considers a frivolous lawsuit.

    “They’ve done this in complete secrecy. They spent $50,000 without notifying the membership: $50,000 of our money, of our fees, our reserves. And the condo is in worse shape than it’s ever been. They’re not spending on what the reserves are made for,” he said.

    Now the case is on appeal and is set for a hearing next month. But attorneys say the full appeal process will take more than a year.

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