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Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association suing Brunswick Co. over rezoning

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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (NEWS RELEASE) - The Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association (ROCCA), the Reverend Curtis McMillian and Dennis McMillian filed a lawsuit in Brunswick County Superior Court today. The suit alleges that the county’s April 4, 2011 decision to rezone land in the Royal Oak community from rural residential to industrial general with the express intent of expanding the solid waste landfill to build a construction and demolition (C&D) landfill, was illegal and void. The complaint challenges the rezoning under North Carolina’s Declaratory Judgment Act, the North Carolina Fair Housing Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. All plaintiffs are represented by UNC Center for Civil Rights and the law firm of K&L Gates, LLP.

ROCCA is a community association of citizens and residents of Royal Oak in Supply, N.C., dedicated to protecting the quality of life and environment of Royal Oak, a historically African American community. ROCCA’s membership, like the Royal Oak community itself, is almost entirely African American. The lawsuit claims that the rezoning is illegal spot zoning, and is illegal because it is not compatible with the county’s comprehensive land use plan and was conducted without considering other possible uses for the parcel as required by law.

The complaint also alleges that the rezoning decision is part of a racially discriminatory pattern and practice of burdening the county’s African American communities with hazardous and unwanted land uses. Numerous environmental hazards either owned or permitted by Brunswick County, including the county’s only landfill, a sewage treatment center, a waste transfer station, the animal shelter, and many sand mines, are already located in Royal Oak. These hazards, compounded with a high water table and shallow wells, place the Royal Oak community’s drinking water at risk. Brunswick County has failed to provide Royal Oak with water and sewer service, and the complaint alleges that this failure is also part of the history of discrimination against Royal Oak and its residents. County sewer and water lines serve the sewage treatment plant and animal shelter, but not the community residents, whose well water is already affected by the environmental hazards to the point that residents must buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. The county now intends to triple the size of the landfill, furthering its destructive effect on the community.

Royal Oak is not alone in its challenges. All across North Carolina and the nation, discriminatory land use policies and practices have led to the physical, political, social and economic exclusion and under-development of communities of color. This exclusion originated in our country’s history of residential segregation under Jim Crow. Exclusion, the legacy of segregation, includes lack of access to public services like water and sewer, substandard housing, access to the political process, exclusion from the best schools, and, as in Royal Oak, environmentally hazardous land uses. The UNC Center for Civil Rights represents excluded communities across North Carolina to overcome exclusion and segregation through a variety of strategies, including challenging discriminatory school assignment plans and district boundaries, helping communities and towns seek funding for needed water and sewer infrastructure, and by challenging environmental hazards that disproportionately burden excluded communities.

The lawsuit seeks to restrain the county from interfering with the Royal Oak community’s rights under the NC Fair Housing Act, and from perpetuating residential segregation by making the Royal Oak community an undesirable place to live. “The Royal Oak community has borne a disproportionate burden of the County’s waste for too long now,” says ROCCA president Lewis Dozier. “Enough is enough.”

www.law.unc.edu/centers/civilrights

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