Beachfront homeowner’s battle a preview of climate change issues to come

North Carolina

NAGS HEAD,N.C. (WAVY) – For many people, owning beachfront property seems like a dream.

But for one Nags Head property owner, that dream turned into a years-long nightmare that’s draining thousands of dollars from his bank account, and serves as a warning to anyone else who owns beachfront real estate.

When LanceGoldner first saw the cottage on Seagull Drive back in 2003, he pictured weekends with his family at the beach.

“That never happened,” Goldner said. “I bought it 30 days before Isabel came along.”

Since then, Goldner’s beach cottage has gone from oceanfront to actually in the ocean.

“We started to fix it up again, and then another storm came,” he said. “We’ve fixed it up about three times now and each time, a nor’easter comes and washes it away.”

Goldner’sbattling more than just Mother Nature. He also wants town, county and stateauthorities to issue him permits allowing him to fix up the property, insteadof condemning it.

The problem,according to Goldner, is that home’s value has plummeted so low, it may beagainst town rules to get those permits.

“I’m notgetting anything but aggravation from this,” he said. “This has been the worstthing you can ever imagine.”

Now that thetown has replenished the beach, Goldner’s property is once again surrounded bysand, making repairs more feasible, if he can get permits.

Still, theroad that once ran behind the home is long gone.

“It ought to be accessible,” he said. “When I bought the place, it had a road, it had an address, and now I can’t get to the property.”

Gaining atleast some access to the property has its drawbacks, though.

The beachreplenishment project makes it less likely Goldner will get an insurancepayout, since the house is no longer threatening to collapse into the water.

“Floodinsurance doesn’t cover anything unless it falls into the ocean. It’s verymisleading,” he said.

Goldnerisn’t willing to give up and knock down the property on his own dime, becausehe’s still paying a monthly mortgage on the original value when he bought it,which he says was around $350,000.

“I feel bad about thepeople behind me, blocking their view to the ocean and all, but I don’t have achoice,” he said. “I can’t just tear down and throw it away. I have too muchinvested.”

He would, however, accept apayment from the town, which is not unprecedented. In 2015, Nags Head paid $1.5million to buy and destroy six homes that once sat next to Goldner’s.

“Give me fair market valueand I would be out of there,” he said. “They did offer me $35,000. I don’t mindtaking a little beating, but to lose $300,000 for something I didn’t do wrong,I had every insurance that you can have, so I cannot accept the $35,000.”

That $1.5 million settlement came only after a long legal battle, and deputy town manager Andy Garman said as of now, the town hasn’t decided to pursue either option with Goldner.

“We’ve had alot of houses like this removed from the beach.  In some cases, we’ve hadto buy the properties,” Garman said. “In other cases, the property owners kindof gave up and they realized the structures were so far damaged that theyweren’t worth repairing.”

This latestbeach replenishment will only last so long before ocean eats away at the shore,threatening Goldner’s cottage again. 

“We startedactively pursuing nourishment as sort of a stop-gap measure to help protectproperties and so we’re essentially buying ourselves time,” Garman said.

That meansGoldner’s predicament is a preview of what’s to come for the rest of NagsHead’s oceanfront homes – unless the town can win its bigger battle against thesea.

“We’re alsoengaging in broader scale resiliency planning efforts, looking at not justbeach erosion, but what are the overall impacts to Nags Head in terms ofclimate change [and] sea level rise,” Garman said. “People don’t have theirheads stuck in the sand, they want to face these issues head on.”

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