BLADENBORO — The Bladenboro Town Board met on Monday night and heard from Attorney Goldston Womble regarding the condition of Cybernet, a business in Bladenboro which is owned and operated by Jeff Smith of Dublin.
Womble told the board that Smith, who had recently attempted to pay his license fees, was told that his business no longer met the requirements for a non-conforming use, due to the fact it had been closed to the public for a period of time.
Womble said a letter was sent to Melanie Hester on June 11 to notify her of their intent to appeal and he received a letter back stating the town’s position had not changed.
Womble said there seems to be a question of whether or not there has been a “discontinuance of use” of the property.
“Bladenboro has provisions in the ordinance that tells what a non-conforming use is,” said Womble.
He went to read that if the non-conforming use was discontinued for a period of 180 days, then the standard no longer applies.
“There has not been a discontinuance of use of premises,” said Womble.
He noted that Cybernet was closed to the public due to renovations and while Smith awaited for a court case regarding another Internet-related business worked its way through the Bladen County courts. womble said, however, that while the business was closed to the public, Smith continued to maintain and pay the utilities including water and sewer and electric bills and continued the lease on the building.
Womble told the board he had contacted Richard Ducker with the North Carolina School of government and Ducker suggested that it appeared the non-conforming status was retained. Womble also cited court cases as well.
He argued to he board that Smith had come in and properly applied for a permit and for a number of reasons was unable to open Cybernet at the time, but that those issues did not constitute a discontinuance.
Womble requested the board allow Smith to pay the fees and issue the necessary permit.
Town Commissioner Terry Nance asked how long the business was closed.
Smith replied Cybernet was closed March 26, 2013 and he had tried to go through the process of paying the required fees in April 2014, but the town office staff would not accept the payment.
“Did you pay the license for that year?” asked Nance.
“I attempted to in May and the clerk would not accept it,” said Smith.
The board opted to go into closed to consult with Town Attorney Alan Maynard. When the board reconvened in open session, Mayor Rufus Duckworth said, “for the record, because of a possible conflict of interest, we did not consult with the attorney.”
He added, “The consensus …. your client was sent a letter for the appeal process. Your client would need to follow that process.”
Maynard, who serves as legal counsel for the town is has also represented Smith in a pending court case involving Internet cafe businesses he operates in Columbus County.
Womble asked Town Administrator Melanie Hester if Smith needs to submit a new application and Hester replied that Smith could begin his appeal process tomorrow.
“We will get our notice of appeal ready and submit it to you,” said Womble.