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A suit over a Sunset Beach project is on hold. Will the Bird Island walk stay pristine?

The “Kindred Spirit” mailbox on Bird Island has drawn thousands of heartfelt messages over the years. A lawsuit over a disputed development between Bird Island and Sunset Beach has been placed on hold while efforts to continue to have the state protect the site.
The “Kindred Spirit” mailbox on Bird Island has drawn thousands of heartfelt messages over the years. A lawsuit over a disputed development between Bird Island and Sunset Beach has been placed on hold while efforts to continue to have the state protect the site. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

A lawsuit over a disputed development in Sunset Beach, a popular vacation spot on the North Carolina coast, has been placed on hold as efforts continue to preserve the site.

The 35-acre site sits where Mad Inlet once separated the beach community from Bird Island, a 1,481-acre reserve of dunes and marsh. The reserve is also known for its “Kindred Spirit” mailbox, where thousands of beach walkers have penned heartfelt notes over the years. Mad Inlet closed in 1999 after Hurricane Bonnie.

Debate over developing the area has continued for several years.

A third-generation member of the family that developed Sunset Beach, a barrier island reachable only by a bridge, and his business partner wanted to build 21 beachfront homes, a bridge, pier and dock next to Bird Island. The town, however, has maintained that it owns the land, not the developers.

In late November, the town council announced an agreement that could potentially protect the disputed site.

In a memorandum of agreement, the sides agreed to set aside the town’s lawsuit claiming ownership of the land. The developers – Sunset Beach & Twin Lakes Inc. and Sunset Beach West LLC – said they had talked to legislators about the state buying and permanently protecting the site.

Both parties agreed to transfer their interest in the land if the state comes up with enough money to purchase the property, although the developers would receive the purchase money. The agreement doesn’t estimate a price for the tract.

The parties are to appear in court on Friday to ask that the lawsuit be placed on inactive status while the state seeks funding to buy the property. If the state doesn’t ultimately buy the tract, the lawsuit would resume.

“The impetus is now on the developers,” Sunset Beach Mayor Robert Forrester told Coastal Review Online. He added that the town agrees with “the intended result.”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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