Viral video triggers firestorm over Duck beach access
A heated May 29 altercation over beach access in Duck that turned into a viral video has spilled over into a larger debate over the lack of public beach access in the small northern Outer Banks town that was incorporated in 2002.
Duck Village Outfitters owner Bob Hovey, a longtime advocate of beach access rights, was arrested after attempting to use the Sea Breeze beach access. Hovey, who owns a home in the nearby Osprey Ridge subdivision, was confronted by two Sand Dollar Shores subdivision homeowners who attempted to block his access after several previous altercations in the days leading up to his arrest.
“Yesterday I believe I became the first person in the history of Duck to get arrested for going to the beach,” Hovey posted on Facebook last week along with the video. “I recorded two separate instances where I was harassed and on the later incident arrested and taken to jail.”
Duck Public Information Officer Christian Legner told the Sentinel that despite town efforts, there is no remaining available land to create public beach accesses. She also characterized this incident over beach access as “highly unusual” and attributed it, in part, to ongoing tensions between Hovey and the homeowners in the video.
Hovey’s video – which showed both homeowners confronting him, sometimes with crude language – went viral on social media and attracted widespread media attention. It also sparked an outcry demanding public access to Duck beaches and prompted calls to boycott Duck, with hashtags such as #dontdoduck surfacing.
The response on social media also prompted Hovey to launch a crowd funding campaign in an effort to resurrect two legal challenges, one filed in 2016 against the Sand Dollar Shores Homeowner’s Association and the other against the Town of Duck over public beach access rights. In both cases, Hovey said, he had since filed a motion to dismiss without prejudice because of financial reasons, which was granted.
As of June 2, Hovey had raised $9,375 of his $10,000 goal and told the Sentinel he plans to file a motion to lift that dismissal, but would rather use that money toward beach walkways if there’s movement toward more public beach access. He will go to court on the trespassing charge against him on July 5.
The Sentinel was unable to reach Allan Duld, the Sand Dollar Shores homeowner who called the police on May 29. The subdivision’s attorney, Jamie Varnell, in an interview said the access was located on Sand Dollar Shores HOA property and added that the incident “generated a lot of emotion on all sides.”
“As a general statement,” Varnell said, “we concur with Duck regarding it being a private access.”
At the heart of the debate is Hovey’s argument that at least three of the beach accesses in Duck were deeded to the public long before the town was incorporated and remain in the public trust. But according to Legner, all the oceanfront property in Duck, except for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility, had been previously platted as private property before the town was even incorporated.
The plats, she said, depict access points for owners, renters and guests in the town’s more than 60 subdivisions that extend to the west side of N.C. 12. The town has never maintained beach access points, nor had the county before Duck incorporated. There are only a few homes in Duck that are not part of a subdivision with deeded access, she added.
“Conflicts are incredibly low. There’s almost zero issue,” Legner asserted. “Most people who stay, live or visit a property owner in Duck already have access. If they don’t, she continued, they have a friendly access agreement” with a neighboring subdivision.
There is no easy answer for the town as far as public access, Legner acknowledged, because there is no land to acquire. The town has approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the past about purchasing property for a public access, she said, but those efforts fell through due to the complexity surrounding federal land.
Hovey did acknowledge that in the 23 years he’s owned a home in Duck, he’s “never had a problem” accessing the beach until now. And so far, he said, he can still access the nearby neighborhood access at Plover Drive.
For Hovey, the issue goes beyond having the rights to one particular access, but to his conviction about public access rights – whether people live in Duck or are just passing through for the day. He also contends that the public should be able to park on state-owned roads in the town to access the beach and has taken that argument to the town on various occasions.
Legner stated that a judgment as to whether the access is private or public is a decision for the courts, not the town. She added that the police were required to respond to the trespassing complaint.
In the nearby town of Southern Shores, all beach accesses are owned by the Southern Shores Civic Association and a parking pass is required in order to park at them. As to whether public access disputes have arisen in that town, Town Manager Peter Rascoe said, “I haven’t experienced any conflicts, and I’ve been here for almost nine years.”
Another bone of contention among some of Hovey’s social media supporters is that the Dare County taxpayer money is being spent on beach nourishment while no public access is provided. One post read, “Seems almost like fraud to say you have public beaches and take public taxpayer money but have no public beach access?”
According to information posted on the town’s official website, no ad valorem property taxes collected by Dare County are used for beach nourishment. The town’s most recent beach nourishment project in 2017 cost roughly $14 million, half of which was funded through the Dare County Beach Nourishment Fund. That fund is levied on gross receipts from rentals of hotel rooms, cottages, campsites and other accommodations. The remaining funding has come from Duck’s Municipal Service District taxes and the town’s General Fund.
The negative publicity the town has received in the past few days has some local business owners, like Ashley Copeland, concerned. Copeland owns The Roadside Bar & Grill with her husband, Mark, and is holding a fundraiser for Hovey and his fight for public beach access on June 15 at 5 p.m.
Posts like this one were common on social media sites debating the issue: “As an OBX local, our family won’t spend another dime in the elitist Duck community…We used to visit about once a month. Not anymore. We will discourage everyone who know to do so too.”
When asked if all the publicity was affecting business owners, Copeland responded, “Absolutely. I hope people realize they are not hurting the town, but the locals who have businesses in town.”
Copeland said she was hopeful that there was a reasonable way to achieve public beach access in Duck, but noted that she’d never heard of Duck residents acting like the two who called the police on Hovey on May 29. “That is not just right,” she noted.
As for the town, Copeland said, “I think their hands are a little tied. I do think the town has everyone’s best interest at heart, they are just young and growing…There’s got to be a good, simple answer for everyone.”