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Hearing set in Craven Co. superior court for lawsuit against New Bern

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The city of New Bern will spend more than $35,000 to fight a lawsuit filed in Craven County superior court.

Some people who live in the historic district are suing the city try to stop a two-story, four unit townhouse from going up at 313 Front Street.

One of the lead plaintiffs is Mandi Johnson, who lives next door to the empty lot where developers want to build the townhomes.

In the lawsuit, she claims the townhomes would cause increased noise, interference with light and air, and adverse visual impacts. The townhomes would block her view of the Neuse River.

In a written response filed in civil court, the developers say the plaintiffs have not presented any evidence proving that any of these negative effects would happen.

Folks in New Bern have mixed opinions about the lawsuit.

"I think people have a right to fight for what they believe in," said Kathy Dicostanzo, who visits New Bern from her home in Emerald Isle. "There are a lot of other areas in this town that aren't historical that you can build a townhouse. I don't think you should do it on the harbor. It changes the nature of the town."

Others, such as New Bern resident Craig Taylor, are in favor of the townhomes. He believes the construction would stimulate the economy.

"I'm in the construction trade, so I'd like to have some work myself," said Taylor, a painter.

On Tuesday, city aldermen amended the city's budget so they can spend $35,350 in legal fees to fight the suit.

"I really don't like lawsuits myself, but I wouldn't want the taxpayers to pay for it. But I mean, what are you going to do?" said Dicostanzo.

City spokesperson Colleen Roberts referred all questions about the lawsuit to the city's lawyers. A phone call to Robert Hornick, one of city's lawyers, was not returned.

Three of the plaintiffs, Mandi Johnson, Lorelei Schaffhausen, and Nancy Hollows, declined an interview request. Phone calls to the architect of the townhomes, Sarah Afflerbach, and one of the developers, Isaac Clark Wright, were not returned.

A hearing on that appeal is set for November 12 in Craven County Superior Court.

-- Previous story --

The city of New Bern will decide the fate of a controversial townhouse project next week.

For months, property owners have been planning to turn the empty lot at the corner of East Front and Broad streets into a multi-story, four-unit townhouse.

New Bern's Historic Preservation Commission gave them the green light to develop the land, but eight people are trying to stop them by appealing the decision.

Lorelei Schaffhausen is one of the appellants. She believes the townhouses would ruin New Bern's historic charm and lower property values.

"The height of the development is going to basically block views of historic homes already existing," she says.

New Bern alderman Bernard White of the 5th Ward disagrees.

"It just means more growth," he said. "And that's what I would like to see: more growth."

The project site is in the 1st Ward, but alderman Sabrina Bengel did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Schaffhausen believes the townhouse project violates local and state laws, but a city spokeswoman denies that.

"The City's internal Boards and staff follow guidelines, standards, and codes when making decisions about future development, including scheduling public hearings," said Colleen Roberts, spokeswoman for the city of New Bern. "These boards have spent months reviewing this application and evaluating this project against those guidelines, standards, and codes."

New Bern's Board of Adjustment is expected to make a decision on the appeal Monday evening.

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