Rockingham County Commissioners Respond to Rezoning Lawsuit

Posted on: November 6, 2023, 01:52h. 

Last updated on: November 6, 2023, 02:22h.

The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners was named in a lawsuit last month that contests the legality of the process the county officials took in rezoning nearly 193 acres of land for a potential casino resort.

Rockingham County North Carolina casinos
Rockingham County sits just south of the North Carolina and Virginia border. County officials are responding to a lawsuit brought against them for approving a rezoning request for land some in the community believe was for a casino they didn’t want. (Image: Pinterest)

The Rockingham commissioners in August unanimously approved a rezoning request to allow a commercial project on 192.7 acres just north of Carefree Lane along US 220. The applying entity was NC Development Holdings, a subsidiary of The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based commercial real estate developer that operates three casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

After the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners approved the rezoning request, reports surfaced that North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) was trying to rally support in the Raleigh capital to authorize casinos in the counties of Rockingham, Anson, and Nash. Berger tried to tack on a gaming provision to the state’s 2023-25 budget bill and earmark the casino development opportunities for NC Development Holdings.

Cordish and the company’s key executives have been linked to Berger and other Republican lawmakers through political donations. Berger, for instance, received $5,600 from Joseph Weinberg, the CEO of Cordish’s gaming division.

County Officials Say Valid Rezoning

Criticism from county officials and community members in the targeted counties resulted in Republicans and Democrats refusing to join Berger’s crusade to legalize commercial casino gambling in the Tar Heel State.

In Rockingham, a group of citizens subsequently brought a lawsuit against the county on allegations that the commissioners ignored “basic legal requirements” in rezoning the land from “residential/agricultural” to commercial. The lawsuit is led by the owners of Camp Carefree, a nonprofit that provides free summer camps for disabled children and kids with chronic illnesses. Camp Carefree butts up against the 192.7 acres that was rezoned.

The plaintiffs contend that the Rockingham commissioners acted inappropriately in considering the rezoning request and conspired with Cordish to push a Las Vegas-style casino on the community. Responding to the lawsuit, the commissioners wrote that they believe the litigation is without merit and a judge will rightfully dismiss the case.

“The property in issue sits along future Interstate 73, a four-lane divided highway. This area has been earmarked as a future growth area for a couple of decades,” the commissioners explained.

The county officials went on to say that they complied with rezoning rules and unified development ordinances (UDOs) and considered public input before voting on the request.

Casinos on Hold

Berger couldn’t muster enough support for his casino plan, which he said would keep gaming money inside the state instead of flowing north into Virginia, where land-based casinos are opening. Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) are expected to renew their casino push next year.

Moore, who had initially backed Berger’s casino scheme before rescinding his support, said last month that it “makes sense” to allow North Carolinians to gamble at casinos inside the state. North Carolina does have three tribal casinos: Harrah’s Cherokee, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, and Catawba Two Kings.

Online sports betting, which state lawmakers authorized earlier this year, is expected to begin early next year. The North Carolina State Lottery Commission is finalizing its regulations for the expanded gaming.

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