Landowners in Rockingham County filed a lawsuit against the county challenging the rezoning of land for a casino.
Camp Carefree, a non-profit organization that provides a camp for critically ill children is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which seeks to block the rezoning of the land, located south of Madison near Ram Loop and U.S. Highway 220.
The rezoning petition came during the 2023 legislative cycle when North Carolina casino expansion plans nearly passed into law. While casino expansion did not pass muster this year, the proposed casino expansion plan, including three commercial casinos in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties could carry over into the abbreviated 2024 legislative session, making this lawsuit all the more pressing.
Rockingham approved rezoning the land for “mixed-use” purposes
In August, the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners approved the rezoning of close to 200 acres for future casino development. The land parcel abuts Camp Carefree land. Camp leaders have stated that they do not want to see Rockingham become “another Las Vegas.”
The suit filed by Citizens for Good Growth is joined by Camp Carefree, as well as other private landowners in Rockingham County. Previously, the land was zoned as residential/agricultural, but the action by the county commission allows it to be designated as “highway commercial.”
The Cordish Companies requested rezoning through NC Development Holdings. The Cordish Companies is a Maryland-based real estate development company that has extensive experience fostering gaming projects to fruition. A company representative explained to the Rockingham commissioners that the land would be used for “mixed-use development.”
Rezoning does not mean a casino developer can build a casino on the land. That would require state legislation to allow expansion of casinos in North Carolina.
Neighboring critically ill children’s camp opposes rezoning for casino development
Camp Carefree Inc., established in 1986 in Stokesdale, is listed among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Rockingham County and NC Development Holdings LLC. Also joining the plaintiff’s list are:
– Micris LLC.
– Mary Lea Anderson.
– Donald and Christine Dohm.
– David and Wendy Forbes.
– Brandon and Amy Leebrick.
– Jill N. Meier.
– Jeffrey Darren Scott.
All of these plaintiffs are property holders in Rockingham County, with land nearby or adjacent to the 190 acres in question.
“Citizens for Good Growth stands ready to aid these landowners in this fight and recognizes that this battle is for the good of all citizens of the county, not just surrounding landowners,” the local group said in a statement issued to the media on Oct. 30, and first reported by Fox8 News in High Pointe.
Suit alleges Cordish affiliates donated money in exchange for support for rezoning
The plaintiffs allege that, despite “overwhelming public opposition” including testimony against rezoning by County Sheriff Sam Page, the Rockingham County Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning petition.
The suit claims that people associated with The Cordish Companies have donated money to the campaigns of state lawmakers and lobbyists who support the rezoning. According to Fox8 News, “data showed that at least eight lawmakers collectively received more than $34,000 in donations from Cordish-linked people between November 2022 and March 2023.”
According to a statement issued by the plaintiffs to announce the lawsuit, the commission violated the law and ignored procedures when it held a hearing and voted to change the zoning of the land.
“Not only was the Commissioners’ decision unlawful, but it was also shrouded in secrecy and deceit,” the statement said. “They consistently told individuals and the larger public that the rezoning of the land had nothing to do with a casino despite their trip to Maryland [to consult with Cordish] and clear plan to build a casino on the land beside Camp Carefree.”
Rockingham County sent out a news release on Friday in response to the lawsuit. In its response, the County argued that the rezoning process was “error free” and that the court would dismiss the suit. The release stated that “the property in issue sits along future Interstate 73, a four-lane divided highway. This area has been earmarked as a future growth area for a couple of decades.”
Where would developers build a Rockingham Casino?
The proposed site of a Rockingham County casino, the 190 acres that have been rezoned and are now the subject of the lawsuit, rests near U.S. Highway 220 near Ram Loop, about seven miles south of Madison, and six miles northeast of Stokesdale. That area is largely open agricultural and wooded property. Camp Carefree, north and west of the land in question, is about a 50-acre parcel.
Property values would likely increase, says data
Prior research from NCSharp reveals that property values in Rockingham would increase substantially from casino expansion in the county. In other states, property values went up 30% on average near rural casinos. Also, a casino in the region proposed would become the largest employer in the county.