Municipal Laws

Local Ordinances and State Property: Enforcement Issues Under the Boardwalk

We’re coming to you today from the local government world to discuss the ever-controversial topic of smoking bans and prohibitions.  This item, in particular, brings the added bonus of an interesting overlap between State law and municipal law, which a more common regulatory problem than one might guess.

This past year, the North Carolina beach municipalities of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach adopted local ordinances prohibiting smoking on beaches adjacent to those towns.  However, generally speaking, ocean beaches in North Carolina are State property, which means the local governments are without power to enforce local ordinances on said property.  This is interesting enough.

But, it gets more interesting.  According to reports, a bill is bouncing around the State’s General Assembly to give New Hanover County beach municipalities (including Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach) the power to enforce their local smoking ordinances on State property.  Such a “tool” would be in the style of a “local law”.  Local laws, which are not uncommon, can be described as laws adopted by the State General Assembly and applicable to a specific county or municipality (as opposed to State-wide) that grant, restrict or modify the powers available to individual jurisdictions.

The apparent problem with the bill is that a local law cannot be used to permit local ordinance enforcement on State property.  Instead, that power must come from State-wide legislation, which is a more difficult proposition for the General Assembly to negotiate and enact.

Land use principles, local government laws, State laws and politics are the tides of our profession.


If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s about a dispute between neighboring municipalities over dredging rights.  Ok, it’s not about that at all.


Mike Thelen practices in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation and Land Use practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development matters in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.  Follow the North Carolina Land Use Litigator on Twitter at @nclanduselaw.

Categories: Municipal Laws

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