ATLANTIC BEACH — Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper said last week he is concerned but not alarmed, yet, that a Cape Carteret resident, James Anthony Bunn, has filed quitclaim deeds in the Carteret County Register of Deeds office asserting that he owns the dry sand beach and dunes in front of numerous homes east and west of the town’s oceanfront boardwalk in the former amusement circle.

“It’s basically a private property dispute, and it doesn’t affect the town’s property,” Mayor Cooper said. “I’m concerned for the property owners who have to face this.”

Mayor Cooper said the town’s attorney, Derek Taylor, is aware of the situation that began in April when Cape Carteret resident James Anthony Bunn – no connection to Atlantic Beach Circle Development District developer and realtor Fred Bunn – filed the deeds.

“We talked to him (Taylor) about it, and although we aren’t directly involved, we’re ready to help any way we can,” the mayor added. 

According to a story that ran in the News-Times on Wednesday, May 17 – written by Coastal Review Online Editor and former News-Times staff writer Mark Hibbs – Bunn registered quitclaim deeds for more than a dozen parcels in Atlantic Beach south, or oceanward, of beach houses and condominiums.

In that story, Mayor Cooper said, the strip of dunes was once part of a tract known as the Musgrave family property, but that land completely eroded away decades ago.

“I don’t think they are lots anymore. These kinds of ocean parcels have been on the tax maps for a while, but my belief, based on what I remember as a kid in the ’70s and what I’ve heard from everybody, is that those areas eroded away before we began our beach nourishment program, Mayor Cooper told Hibbs, whose publication is the online news service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. 

“The first beach nourishment was in 1979, and there’s a state statute on point that says oceanfront, basically beaches, if it is created through a publicly funded beach nourishment project, that sand is property of the state, and all the public trust rights that would apply to other parts of the beach would apply to that.”

Bunn has reportedly told some of the property owners they are trespassing on his property if they cross it and has put up no trespassing signs.

Some of the individual oceanfront parcels that Bunn claims to own front multiple beach houses, one as many as five separately owned homesites, according to Hibbs’ story, and the story also said some of the property owners said Bunn was threatening and intimidating, as he was open-carrying a weapon.

A quitclaim in North Carolina is a legal form used to convey real estate in North Carolina from one person to another. A quitclaim, unlike a warranty deed, does not come with a guarantee from the seller, or grantor, as to whether the grantor has clear title to the property or has the authority to sell the property. You can have an attorney draw one up, or you can download a simple form online.

A local attorney, who asked not to be named, said quitclaim deeds often end up in civil court, as the Atlantic Beach property owners’ attorney, Rob Wheatly of Beaufort, said in Hibbs’ story is likely to happen.

The local attorney said quitclaims can be filed by anyone, on any property, and people sometimes file quitclaims on themselves.

“It’s usually when no one really knows who owns a piece of property,” the attorney said. “It’s an attempt to get ‘something’ on record in the register of deeds when there might be a lot of heirs, and no one really can prove anything.” 

The attorney said it’s best not to have property you claim through quitclaim, because title companies will not write insurance for such properties. And if nobody really knows who owns the property, and it can’t be proven, “You’re going to end up in a scrape,” the attorney said.

Wheatly did not return phone call messages left for him at his office.

But Bunn claims his deeds for the land “have all been legally acquired … and recognized by Carteret County and the town Atlantic Beach.”

In an email last week, he said, there is a “chain of title” for the properties “clearly passing from one owner to another for most of the last century,” and the town and county have been collecting taxes on the land “as far back as I can discover. Atlantic Beach Inc. developed and sold most all of the land that is known as Atlantic Beach today. This land is no different.”

He said there is no real dispute about the dry sand beach area.

“As a general rule the State of North Carolina owns the wet sand areas,” he said in the email. “There can be some debate among folks … about the ownership of the dry sand beach area. Most all of North Carolina accepts the public customary use of some of the dry sand beach, myself included. The upland areas covered by vegetation is generally deeded as  private property.”

In the Hibbs story, Wheatly, attorney for some of the property owners, said beachgoers for years have crossed private oceanfront property to get to the ocean.

In his email, Bunn disputed that, too, saying beachgoers generally use the town’s “abundance of public access streets and roads that lead to the beach to be enjoyed by all,” and “these folks on the south side of East and West Boardwalk do not allow the public to enter, park or cross their property.”

As for the no trespassing signs, he said he did that because, “As I have been evaluating this land, several adjoining owners have been abusive and rude. Some have asked that I stay off of their property, which I completely respect as that is their right just as it is mine. The private party issues that have arisen have been inspired by those neighbors that have either been rude and have restricted my reasonable access to my property, or have serious encroachments upon the land that I now have ownership interest in. Some of these folks are simply attempting to deprive me of my rights as guaranteed by the constitution.”

 Some, he said, have been “respectful” and he has had positive interactions.

 “The neighbors that have told me to stay off their property, out of mutual respect, if you don't want me on your property, I certainly do not want you on mine.”

In the email, Bunn said he has not asked anyone to “sign anything.”

“As a neighbor, I did send a letter of introduction, including my contact information, and asked for the same from the adjoining property owners," he said. "My goal was to establish communication with all neighbors so if there were issues, and there are a few, that we could communicate in a respectful manner.”

He said he told town officials, including the police department, of his intentions in advance.

“The town attorney and the planning department have been extremely cordial and fair in their interactions,” he said in the email. “I have had a very productive preliminary meeting with two representatives of CAMA (the state Division of Coastal Management) to better understand the possibilities and limitations of this land and will continue to work on my plans for its best use.”

Bunn, who has a real estate business website for a firm in Wilson, said he was told that, at a minimum, a 200-square-foot gazebo, or 500-square-foot deck and walkway over the dunes would be permissible.

There is also an appeal process if permits are denied, he added.

“I will continue to evaluate this property for its best use and hopefully some of it will be buildable,” Bunn concluded.

Hibbs story: https://coastalreview.org/2023/05/deeds-filed-for-atlantic-beach-dunes-lead-to-access-dispute/.

There have been similar oceanfront property disputes in North Carolina and Carteret County, as mentioned in this this May 21 News-Times editorial: https://www.carolinacoastonline.com/news_times/opinions/editorials/article_38528b22-f669-11ed-a387-97a4fb4cd13d.html.


Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.


(7) comments


James Bunn sounds like another big city liberal trying to take property from legal homeowners.


If it is proven that Mr. Bunn owns the property, I hope he pays all the back taxes due on all that expensive beachfront property. Might be a few million bucks.


Okay if this is true then lets start making the property owners pay for there own sand!! Why do the tax payer have to flip the bill and then be told it is privet property keep off. So if the county only owns to the High tide line then that's all that needs to be sand put on. Its time for the rich to pay for all the fun and snobbish living they live in.


When I lived on the beach in the 70s the water came up to the seawall in that area. Sand accretion from pumping and judicious use of sand fences has created this property.

the secret life of man

Maybe Mother nature will settle this dispute,Mother nature certainly settle many of the beach disputes in 1954 Hurricane Hazel.Land disappeared in a day.

James Johnson

@the secret life of man. Exactly. Any title to the land Bunn bought was destroyed when Hazel washed away the lots in 1954. His purchase of these lots means nothing, because he bought nothing, which is why it is worth nothing. The original owner, Atlantic Beach Inc. tried to sell the lots for a mere $750 in the early 1990's and failed because everyone knew the lots were erased decades ago. So, unable to find a buyer, AB Inc., GAVE them to Musgrave for $10 with a quitclaim deed. Then, the Musgraves tried to sell them for 3 decades and failed, and again, unable to find buyers, they gave them to Bunn. Now he is trying the same bs as these other two owners. Note Bunn's deception: "he said, there is a “chain of title” for the properties “clearly passing from one owner to another for most of the last century''. This is false...there was ONE transaction before Bunn. That occurred in 1996, from the original owners Atlantic Beach Inc to Musgrave. That's it!

the secret life of man

Great research Mr.Johnson.Mother Nature will bring more changes.

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