ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Camp Carefree and other Rockingham County landowners have filed a lawsuit against the county over the rezoning of several acres of land for the purpose of building a casino.

On Monday, Citizens for Good Growth, which describes itself as a “tax-exempt social organization formed to promote economic development in Rockingham County,” issued a release about the newly filed lawsuit, centering around 192 acres that were rezoned from residential/agricultural use to “highway commercial” in order to pave the way for the construction of a casino.

“Citizens for Good Growth stands ready to aid these landowners in this fight and recognizes
that this battle is for the good of all citizens of the county, not just surrounding landowners,” they wrote, stating that they are raising funds to help with the lawsuit.

Listed as plaintiffs are Camp Carefree Inc., Micris LLC, Brandon W. Leebrick and Amy E. Leebrick, Donald Dohm and Christine Dohm, David Forbes and Wendy Forbes, Mary Lea Anderson, Jeffrey Darren Scott and Jill N. Meier. Rockingham County, NC Developing Holdings LLC and the owners of the property — Julie J. Sanders, Ellen J. Whitesell, Linda J. Carmichael and Susan J. Murray — are listed as defendants.

The issue began on Aug. 21, when the Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of rezoning the land despite what the lawsuit referred to as “overwhelming public opposition,” including from Rockingham County Sheriff and current candidate for lieutenant governor Sam Page. The land is mostly surrounded by residential homes, but also neighbors Camp Carefree, a non-profit that provides summer camp experiences for disabled and special needs children.

They write that the board ignored “basic legal requirements” when it approved the rezoning application, which was submitted by NC Development Holdings, which has links to The Cordish Companies, a gambling development company.

The lawsuit alleges that the board participated in illegal contract zoning, ignored land uses of surrounding parcels and committed multiple procedural errors in their efforts to rezone the land for commercial use.

The group also alleges that individuals affiliated with Cordish have been giving “significant money” to the campaigns of state legislators and that lobbyists have been working on behalf of Cordish in the state.

Campaign data showed that at least eight lawmakers collectively received more than $34,000 in donations from Cordish-linked people between November 2022 and March 2023. Senate Leader Phil Berger, who attempted to tie casino legislation into the state budget and whose son Kevin serves on the County Board of Commissioners in Rockingham County, received $5,600 from Cordish Gaming Group CEO Joseph Weinberg.

Berger “significantly delayed” the passage of the state budget while attempting to legalize casino gambling, with projects that would bring multiple casinos to the state and on tribal land in North Carolina, they write.

“Many Republican and Democrat legislative leaders stood with the public and rejected further expansion of gambling in North Carolina, recognizing the detrimental impact casinos and related gambling bring to communities, particularly those with low-to-moderate incomes like Rockingham, Anson, and Nash counties where the proposed legislation sought to place the casinos,” the release states.

“Not only was the Commissioners’ decision unlawful, but it was also shrouded in secrecy and deceit. They consistently told individuals and the larger public that the rezoning of the land had nothing to do with a casino despite their trip to Maryland and clear plan to build a casino on the land beside Camp Carefree.”

At least one landowner in North Carolina expressed displeasure at learning land he had entered an agreement to sell might be used for a casino project, accusing the developers of being dishonest when buying the land.

“We seriously question the judgment of local and state officials who think it is a good idea to put a casino beside a beloved children’s camp that has served disabled and special needs children and their families for nearly 40 years. Maybe if these elected officials had made a trip to Camp Carefree this past summer and spent time with campers instead of traveling to a casino in Maryland, they would know just how important it is to preserve our community. We hope this rezoning lawsuit will shine light on the need for transparency and accountability of all our elected officials.”