The vice chairman of the Coastal Resources Commission approved a request for a third party contested hearing on the Sunset Beach West development but denied a request to hear the appeal of the property ownership issue.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Sunset Beach Taxpayers’ Association requested a formal appeal of a developer’s Coastal Area Management Act permit on June 20. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the groups, which must file a petition for a hearing with the Office of Administration Hearings within 20 days.

Renee Cahoon, the vice chairman of the Coastal Resources Commission, granted the hearing because of allegations that the 21-lot development and its connecting bridge could affect a nearby estuary, as well as because the project would violate the Town of Sunset Beach’s land-use rules and the Division of Coastal Management’s rules that protect primary sand dunes. The town’s rules, for example, state that all structures along Main Street must be built within 150 feet of the street — but some of the proposed homes would be unable to comply with that rule. The homes would also have to be built seaward of the dunes.

Cahoon, however, did deny the request for an appeal based on the question of property ownership.

The federation and taxpayers’ group say that the permit should have never been issued. Based on a 1987 deed, the Town of Sunset Beach contends the town owns the property and has filed an appeal with the Brunswick County Superior Court.

Cahoon announced the decision Friday after being delegated the task by Frank Gorham, chairman of the CRC. Gorham, a resident of Wilmington, represents coastal property owners and land development on a commission. Cahoon is a resident and town commissioner of Nags Head.

Cahoon denied the right to appeal property ownership on the grounds that the issue is being litigated in Brunswick County Superior Court. She stated the CRC and the administrative hearing division is not the appropriate venue for the property rights issue.

The permit in question allows Sunset Beach West, LLC — owned by developers Sammy Varnam and Greg Gore — to build a 21-lot oceanfront residential development on the site of what used to be Mad Inlet in Brunswick County. The proposed area for the development is an approximately 25-acre tract of land between developed lots on the west end of Sunset Beach and the Bird Island Reserve.

Mad Inlet closed in 1998, but because inlets shift constantly, the area of the proposed development did have inlet hazard designation. In February 2014, Gorham and the CRC removed that designation. The proposed development is adjacent to Bird Island, which is part of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and protected from development.

The proposed development has been a contentious issue in Sunset Beach for months now. The town officials and developers have been at odds for some time, and during the most recent session of the General Assembly, a bill was introduced to de-annex parts of Sunset Beach from the town. That bill ultimately failed.

The federation advocates for inlet and beach management that disturbs as little natural habitat as possible. More information about its advocacy efforts can be found at

For more information, please contact Mike Giles at or (252) 393-8185, ext. 203.