Her 24-bedroom Outer Banks house is finally complete. But will she have to move it?

Aerial view of Elizabeth Letendre's 24-bedroom house north of Corolla in North Carolina's Outer Bank.
Aerial view of Elizabeth Letendre's 24-bedroom house north of Corolla in North Carolina's Outer Bank.

Elizabeth Letendre's 24-bedroom house north of Corolla stands ready for renters on the shifting sands of the North Carolina Outer Banks.

But a long-running legal tug-of-war between Currituck County, neighboring property owners and Letendre could shift the line in the sand for how close the massive rental property is to the pounding surf.

On Monday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued a crucial mandate for a recent ruling on Letendre's attempt to keep her controversial structure right where it is — on a remote, roadless stretch of land in the oceanside dunes.

The property has been the center of a years-long debate about whether the $4.6 million U-shaped beachfront home that sleeps 50 is so big its more of a business than a single-family home.

The house has 24 bedrooms (all of which are masters, most with king-size beds), 25 bathrooms, a private pool, theater room, elevator, parking for 25 or more, and rents for $17,500-$39,500 per week, according to the Twiddy and Co. rental website. The house is called "The Chesapeake."

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Neighbors are upset that this house of more than 15,000 square feet is considered a single-family home rather than a commercial structure. Jeff Hampton 2015 Virginian-Pilot file photo

In September 2016, Letendre was prohibited from putting finishing touches on the house, when the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled the house was not technically a single-family home as defined by Currituck County development ordinances. Letendre was forced to halt construction on the property.

Neighboring property owners Marie and Michael Long argued the property was a commercial use in a residential area and sued Letendre and the county, arguing that structure posed safety hazards, traffic troubles and environmental risks.

Now, a three-judge appellate panel ruled against Letendre in a 73-page opinion issued May 15.

The judges reversed a 2017 decision by a Superior Court judge who ordered Currituck County to rescind its stop-work order against Letendre's property.

Attorney Jonathan Hall of Raleigh, who is representing Letendre on appeal, told The Daily Advance on June 1 that he plans to submit a petition to the N.C. Supreme Court for further review.

If the state's high court declines to hear the case, which was decided unanimously by the three appellate judges, the case will head back to Currituck Superior Court for further proceedings.

Ike McRee, the Currituck County attorney, said Monday that several things could happen if the appeals court ruling stands.

Letendre could move the structure, as it is, out of the area governed by the Coastal Management Commission.

"They keep saying they can't move it," McRee said. "My comment is they moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse."

If the house isn't moved, McRee said, the county is likely to revoke the certificate of occupancy, making it so Letendre could not rent the house as she does now.

Construction on the house began in March 2015 after Letendre purchased the land for $530,000 in April 2012.

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Letendre was originally granted a building permit by the Coastal Management Commission for three buildings on a 3.7-acre lot, which allowed her to build a few hundred feet closer to the ocean. But the plans later changed to a 15,000-square-foot single structure after advice from the county's then-planning and community development director, Ben Woody, according to The Daily Advance.

In April 2017, Letendre filed a lawsuit that argued Currituck County unconstitutionally deprived her of the use of her property. She sought damages exceeding $25,000 and a judicial order to allow her to finish construction.

Letendre began construction on the property while the question of its legality was still up in the air because her attorneys said she would have suffered "significant financial harm" if she waited, since she would have lost income by not being able to use the home as a vacation rental.

The property was about 95 percent complete when the most recent court proceedings began.

Initially, Superior Court Judge Walter Godwin ordered the county to rescind its stop-work order while other questions over monetary relief raised in the lawsuit awaited further hearing. He also ordered the county to issue all permits that are necessary to allow people to stay there once construction is finished.

That last bit of construction happened while the county appealed the ruling.

The appeals court ruling that was issued May 15 and formalized Monday states that Letendre took "a calculated risk" in beginning construction while litigation was pending and that she had been warned multiple times.

"(LeTendre) knowingly chose to gamble that the order in Long would not be reversed and she lost that gamble,” the ruling said. “The consequences of delaying construction may have also been harsh and (LeTendre) had to make a difficult choice, but the choice was hers to make.”

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768, @AbbieRBennett.
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