Property rights go up in smoke

March 06, 2019 | By ERIN WILCOX

On October 10, 2016, Michael and Cathy Zito’s beach home in Nags Head, North Carolina, burned to the ground.  Luckily no one was hurt, but as Michael and Cathy were about to discover, the sadness of losing their dream home was nothing compared to the bureaucratic nightmare that came next.

The Zitos planned to rebuild.  The burned out shell of their home was an eyesore in their dense beachfront neighborhood.  But when they asked the Town of Nags Head for a permit to begin construction, their permit was denied.

The Zitos wanted to rebuild their home on the same footprint.  The rebuilt house wouldn’t be any larger or different than the one that had stood there since 1982.  But significantly, since 1982, the legal setback line for coastal building had migrated landward. The Zitos’ lot, like the dozens of other developed lots lining the ocean on either side, is no longer 60 feet landward from the vegetation line.  The Zitos asked for an exception so they could rebuild their home and put it in the same position it was previously- when no one had a problem with the location of their home. But the Town refused to give its permission – even though the homes on either side are just as close to the water.

The Zitos then asked the state’s coastal resources commission to grant them an exception to the coastal setback requirement.  The commission denied the request, coming to the ludicrous conclusion that being barred from rebuilding their home wasn’t an “unnecessary hardship.”

Suddenly, the only use for the Zitos’ property was as a beautiful place to stand and look at the ocean.  The Town got a public open space, free of charge.   The Zitos have nothing except continuing tax bills and a vacant, unusable lot.

This is unconstitutional.  The Fifth Amendment and the North Carolina Constitution say the government can’t take your property without paying a fair price, and it certainly can’t enforce laws that regulate the use and value of your property out of existence.

This week, the Zitos filed a complaint in federal court against the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission to protest this unlawful land grab.  They are taking a stand against this unfair and unconstitutional taking of their property, and PLF is proud to be by their side in this fight.

Michael and Cathy Zito lost their beach home to fire. They shouldn’t lose their ability to rebuild to bureaucrats with no respect for the Constitution.