Drew Lutheran is hoping that a full accounting of the repair and remodeling work that has taken place on the Swannsborough Yacht Club in the past several months will allow him to settle a dispute with the town of Swansboro, complete the work and get the doors to the iconic night club and restaurant back open.
He would be back in business now, but his plan to remodel the building during the shutdown forced by the global pandemic in 2020 went awry, due to a dispute over the scope and cost of the work. That resulted in the town issuing a stop-work order in August 2020.
Lutheran, who opened the club on the Swansboro causeway in 1993, said that when the town shuttered the business, it not only hit him financially, it also adversely affected the 60 people who work at the club.
In a telephone interview, he said he feels he has been singled out.
“I feel like we are not getting any support from the town,” Lutheran said.
According to information provided by Michael J. Parrish, attorney for the town of Swansboro, the Yacht Club was damaged during Hurricane Florence. Then, in May 2019, Lutheran received a building permit to install new roof trusses.
“On Aug. 4, 2020, the existing building permit was revised due to a difference in roof design submitted by Mr. Lutheran,” Parrish states in a letter to Lutheran’s attorney, Mike Lincoln.
Lutheran said that following Hurricane Florence in September 2018, he made the repairs necessary to get the business back open and the Swannsborough Yacht Club was fully operational through around March 2020 when Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders forced many bars, restaurants and private clubs to shut down or drastically curtail operations.
“COVID came and we were closed,” he said.
So, while the business was closed during COVID precautions, he said he started to complete the remodeling that was underway.
“It was stuff we had started doing after Florence,” Lutheran said.
Mainly, he said that the work included changing the roof line of the building and adding a second floor, all of which was prepared under an engineer’s seal.
While the work was underway, he said he was warned about the 50 parent rule.
According to the town code, “If the cost to repair the building or structure to bring it into compliance with minimum standards is 50 percent or less of its then-current value, the ordinance shall require the owner to either repair or demolish and remove the building or structure within 90 days. If the cost to repair the building or structure to bring it into compliance with minimum standards exceeds 50 percent of its then-current value, the ordinance shall require the owner to demolish and remove the building or structure within 90 days.”
So Lutheran said he paid for a commercial appraisal of the building to determine how much he could spend without breaking that 50 percent threshold.
According to the letter from Parrish, following the issuance of the revised building permit in August 2020, “the town discovered that Mr. Lutheran had undertaken a much wider scope of work than what had been applied for and what was authorized in the existing building permit.”
A stop-work order was issued on Aug. 31, 2020. Since then, the two sides have been in a stalemate with Lutheran trying to reconcile the cost of the work as being under the 50 percent threshold and the town not allowing any further repairs or remodeling until the matter is settled.
Some within the town have treated the club as being less-than-upstanding, in the opinion of Lutheran.
“I think the town thinks we are just a nuisance,” he said.
While he could not be specific, Lutheran intimated that there might be a feeling of disdain for a “late-night hangout.” Perhaps it is the sound of the music. Or perhaps, he indicated, some might consider the crowd unsavory. But that is not the case.
“All types of people go there,” Lutheran said. On any night, a visitor to the Yacht Club might find commercial fishermen and clammers playing foosball with lawyers and doctors. “It is a local hangout.”
The Yacht Club is a place where people can go, mainly young people, for club-type entertainment without having to drive to Jacksonville or Morehead City, according to Lutheran.
Lutheran also said that since COVID restrictions closed down all the bars, other establishments in Swansboro – not of the private club variety – have picked up some of the business that was his.
In order to resume the repairs and remodeling on the building, Lutheran said he hopes to prove that the work can be accomplished for less than half of the value of the building at the time the repairs were undertaken.
He said the appraisal for that came in at more than $300,000.
“I had $150,000 to spend on that building, which I’m not even close to,” he said. “I’m staying under 50 percent for sure.”
Now, it is incumbent upon Lutheran to bring the town into agreement on that. To do that, he has enlisted the help of a local builder.
Russ Davis of Swansboro, a licensed general contractor, said he has been assisting Lutheran in resolving differences with the town. He said his role is to ascertain as factually as possible what has been spent on the project.
“I was asked to bring things together,” Davis said.
Specifically, he has been organizing the costs of materials – by gathering and verifying invoices – and labor – by providing a record of payments from Lutheran to the contractors. It is a task made difficult by the length of time that work has been going on.
Davis said he has uncovered a major discrepancy.
He said that about $13,000 worth of materials listed by the town as purchased for the Yacht Club project was not used for the Yacht Club.
Davis said, “There were … materials not used on this job.” The materials have been returned for credit or taken to other jobs.
Also, about $13,000 worth of materials – again, counted against the Yacht Club project by the town – was actually purchased for work on Lutheran’s home, which was under repair for storm damage.
That discrepancy would lower the cost of project substantially.
The accounting is reaching a conclusion, according to Davis.
“We will be providing the town with a final summary of where things really are,” he said. “It has been prolonged for various reasons. What we are doing now is bringing it to a final resolution.”
That could not come soon enough for Lutheran, who believes that he has been branded as the bad guy in the dispute. He is pushing back on that.
“I just feel like its time people know,” he said. “We are ready to get back to business over there.”
And, he added, there are a lot of folks who counted on the Yacht Club for a paycheck who would agree. When he shut his doors he said he had 60 people on the payroll – some part-time and some full-time – and he was doing about $300,000 a month in food and liquor sales.
“We were one of the busiest in the state,” Lutheran said.
Looking back, he believes it was his attempt to improve the look of the building that caused the impasse.
“I could have put a rubber roof back on my building and I would never have been in this mess,” he said. “Instead, I wanted to improve the look of the Yacht Club.”
Now, he can’t even finish drying in the building.
“Let me finish the building and get my siding on it,” Lutheran pleaded. “Let me open my doors.”
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.