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Waterfall Park: The continuing saga of an island eyesore

Friday 17 July 2015 at 5:30 pm.

Dare County stepped up its efforts last month to get the owner of one of the island's worst eyesores to clean up the property -- so far with only minimal success.

On June 11, Dare County attorney and manager Robert Outten sent a letter to Ritsa Merjos of Virginia Beach, owner of Waterfall Park in Rodanthe, advising her that she had not resolved safety issues at the site and that the property, therefore, was not in compliance with county ordinances.

The 14.5 acre park is a prime property in the tri-villages, with land on both sides of the highway that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamlico Sound.

It's one of the first things that visitors to the island see as they head south on Highway 12, and for the last four years, what they have seen are falling down structures and fences, putrid pools and ponds, old tires and other debris, and overgrown shrubs and grass.

The park was built by Ritsa Merjos and her late husband, George, and during its heyday in the 1980s and ‘90s, it was filled with families enjoying all of the water-themed attractions, such as waterslides, bumper boats, go-carts, a bungee tower, and swimming pool.



Waterfall Park started its downward spiral after George Merjos died and then the bottom fell out of the U.S. economy in 2007.  It fell on hard times, business fell off, land values plummeted. The park had not been in operation for several years and was looking pretty rundown by the time Hurricane Irene hit in August of 2011.

The hurricane's epic storm surge off the Pamlico Sound caused an incredible amount to damage to homes and businesses in the tri-villages, including Waterfall Park. While before, the park was rundown, it was now wrecked.

In the almost four years since the hurricane, the owner has not moved forward with repairing, rebuilding, or reopening the park -- or tearing down the structures and putting the property up for sale.

The Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Civic Association has made three efforts to buy the park, its president, Mark Dingman, said last fall. The latest offer was early last year for $1.6 million, which is just slightly more than the assessed tax value of the land.

The assessed value is $1,568,700 -- about half of what it was during the boom years of a decade ago when it was assessed at about $3 million.

Dare County planning director Donna Creef and her staff have worked diligently with the owner, who is quite elderly and her grown son and daughter, to get the place cleaned up -- with little success.

At various times last year, the owner sent workmen to gate the door of the falling-down bungee tower, knock down a small building, paint over some graffiti and pick up some debris.

Their efforts have done little or nothing to change Waterfall Park's status as one of the island's worst eyesores.

Last September, Warren Judge, then-chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, railed against the condition of the park at a meeting:

"For too many years now, I have driven through the village of Rodanthe only to look at the decrepit condition of the defunct Waterfall Park. The condition of these parcels of land, says more about us as a community than it says about the property owner. Who would like to live next to this unsightly mess? Do you think driving by this day after day would be depressing? Is it safe? Do the falling down buildings and structures, overgrown with vegetation, provide a refuge for animals of all descriptions which can become a public nuisance or menace? Is this area an attractive nuisance for our young people, younger children who can get hurt, older children who may want to hide? There are areas that allow rain and flood waters to pond, creating a fertile area for mosquitoes, and, worse, a potential for deadly consequences should someone fall in this ponded water."

Judge asked for -- and received unanimously -- board approval for his motion to instruct Outten to use every legal means possible to force the owners' compliance with county ordinances.

In November's election, the leadership of the board changed, and since then, there has been little progress on or discussion of Waterfall Park issues -- until Outten's letter.

In the letter, Outten requested that Ritsa Merjos contact him within 10 days to let him know her plans to bring the property into compliance with county ordinances protecting public safety.

"If I do not hear from you or if the plan you propose does not bring the property into compliance in the next 30 days," Outten wrote, "Dare County will have no alternative but to initiate legal action requesting a court order requiring you to bring your property into compliance and upon you failing to do so authorizes Dare County to do it at your cost. Dare County will also be seeking to recover its legal fees and cost of clean up from you."

Outten says the owner never contacted him or presented a plan. However, a work crew did show up to erect new fencing around the east side of the property and add fencing on the west side, where there had been none.

And that may be about all Dare County can force Merjos to do with its current ordinances.

"They are going to do the minimum possible to satisfy our ordinances," Outten predicted last year.

"We may get it within our ordinances, but it will still look like crap," he bluntly added.

Turns out he was right.

Outten said the county's next step will be to look at what the owner has done and determine if that satisfies the current public safety ordinances.

However, he said, "With it fenced in, it would be hard for me as a lawyer to argue that it's unsafe."

Dare's current public nuisance ordinances address public safety issues and not the appearance of a property, which can open a Pandora's box of issues. Outten quoted the often-heard phrase, "One's man's junk is another man's treasure."

In Dare's fishing villages, it's traditional and acceptable for watermen to stack their crab pots or store their nets or old boats on their property.  Others, especially some who are relocating here from cities, don't find a stack of old crab pots next door to them that appealing.

Politically in the county, it will not be easy for the commissioners to broaden nuisance ordinances to include appearance issues.

In any event, the owner of Waterfall Park appears in no hurry to clean up, rebuild, or sell.
“It’s not that I like to see the property like that,” Steve Merjos, speaking for his mother, said last year. “We don’t.”

He said he and his family built the largest park on the island, which over the years has contributed immeasurably to the economy. In return, he said, they have gotten very little consideration from the state or the county, especially after Hurricane Irene.

Whether or not the family rebuilds, he said, depends on many things.  Chief among them is the replacement of the Bonner Bridge and the repair of the “hotspots” on Highway 12. Without a reliable transportation corridor, he thinks, the park cannot be viable.

He added that they were not willing to sell just then.

“It was worth a tremendous amount of money at one time,” he said of the park. “Someone is trying to pick up the property for pennies on the dollar."

He also said that the people complaining are locals not visitors.

I tried to contact Steve Merjos this week to see if he had anything he wanted to add in response to the county's most recent complaints.  He did not respond to either of two messages I left asking him to please call me. I'll let you know if I hear from him.

RELATED BLOGS

Waterfall Park...Hatteras Island's Worst Eyesore...WITH SLIDE SHOW

Waterfall Park:  Part II

44 comments

Jim Rosenthal

Mr. Merjos is a deluded idiot, or more likely is just trying to preserve the “value” of the land, since the state of the structures on it actually makes it worth less, not more.

As to the comment about the lighthouse, that comment summarizes his entitled, outsider, exploitative, selfish attitude better than anything anyone else could say.

I have property in Buxton and visit as often as I can. I can’t wait to see the Waterfall property change hands so that something a great deal more attractive can be done with it. It would be hard to imagine anything uglier, but I suppose if it continues to decay, we will get to see what it will turn into.

Jim Rosenthal
Buxton

Jim Rosenthal - 17-07-’15 18:19
salvo jimmy

If Waterfall park is a safety issue, then the house at the Northwest corner of Galleon and Monitor in Salvo certainly is a safety issue as it is in much worse shape than a lot of Waterfall Park and I have been unable to get the county to do anything about it for several years.

But then it cannot be easily seen.

Thus to me the Waterfall Park issue is really an appearance issue, readily visible, and safety is a red herring. Otherwise the house would be a safety issue as well.

salvo jimmy - 17-07-’15 18:47
frisco girl

“Only the locals are complaining”. Of course, it is the locals who have to look at this time and again and it is the locals whose property values are affected by this eyesore. Move it up to VA Beach and see if they want to live beside it. BTW, I am not a local, but a property owner in Frisco and I am complaining about it!

frisco girl - 17-07-’15 18:59
JImH

@Jim Rosenthal

The word idiot has strong connotations that don’t apply to Mr. Merjos. It’s their family properties and they can do as they see fit with it. The offers they received were insulting given the size of the parcel and location. They obviously don’t need the money or they would have sold.

In case you have not looked around there are plenty of what some consider to be eyesores. In a perfect world there would be none, but it’s not a perfect world and people can do as they see fit with their land and possessions. Additionally HI has an eclectic and diverse population, which are what makes it HI. If you want a perfect world there are other places and communities to live in that are closer to what you want.

JImH - 17-07-’15 19:08
Jack

Well as long as we have to tolerate the “new” proposed Jug handle Bridge, why not extend it one more mile and land it on this property instead of fouling up the recycle and emergency ferry dock, and taking operation income earning property away from people just north of this. Eminent Domain was created just for this situation… “for the better good”

Jack - 17-07-’15 20:30
tarheelgirl

It amazes me that the folks that own this eye sore say locals are the only ones complaining. Visitors to the island surely find it an eyesore too, but just don’t take the time to mention it, they are here for short periods of time. It’s so unfortunate that these folks who made lots of money off this park, no longer care to keep it up. I am sure if it was adjacent to their properties in VA, they would think differently. Owners do the right thing and at least tear it down. If you don’t want to sell, that is your choice, but please clean up your property.

tarheelgirl - 17-07-’15 20:51
Robert D

I’ve vacationed in Salvo for the past 11 years and Waterfall Park was an eye sore and safety issue sense 2004. I own multiple entertainment attractions in Philadelphia PA and find we have this same problem there. Old greedy money that rather sit back and ignore calls make excuses and fight you in court rather then sell or make there property better. It is disgusting to me to see people Not do business this way. And for JImH to respond as if this was a matter of a badly painted building or an old boat sitting in yard or an eclectic artist community that locals just don’t like is absurd, this is a rotting sh** hole of rusty metal and destroyed buildings and the local, the vacatioers and anyone should need to put up with dead beat property / business owners.

Robert D - 17-07-’15 21:12
Bob from Virginia

I’m not a local but my family and I visit Hatteras Island every year. And I have thought the Waterfall Park was an eyesore even when it was open. It struck me as something that I might expect in Nags Head but not on Hatteras. The sooner it is removed the better.

Bob from Virginia - 17-07-’15 22:27
Katherine Maxwell

As a frequent visitor to Rodanthe, I feel that the Waterfall Park is disgusting. When my children were little it was in shams. They are in their mid twenties now. To us it distracts the beauty of the tri-villages. The decision to sell makes no matter to me. Just make it pretty.

Katherine Maxwell - 17-07-’15 23:32
AndrewC

As a real estate professional I can tell you this land if worth more cleared and clean. For the owners to think that it will one day be worth more in its current condition is absurd. Ok… wait until hell freezes over and the Boner Bridge is replaced and rebuild but either way you have to tear down what remains first. I can’t imagine anything there is salvageable. Do the right thing and clean it up and I guarantee your ROI on the clean up cost will be greater than you think.

Your tax liability should go down due to no land improvement and I suspect your insurance premiums as well. Of course people are low balling the value…. look at it.

AndrewC - 18-07-’15 02:08
Bud

The sub-divisions are the true eyesores on Hatteras Island.

Bud - 18-07-’15 07:09
diver531

“expect in Nags Head” gee thanks Bob from Virginia ….at least Nags commissioners have been cleaning up mess’s like this the last few years . Complete shame this has to be the entrance to Hatteras …. . Give the firemen a chance to stay in practice . LOL

diver531 - 18-07-’15 08:25
Jan

I have stopped renting a cottage in rodanthe partially because Of the eye sore that is the waterpark. Shame on this family!

Jan - 18-07-’15 08:59
Axemanco3

I am not a local and if someone will tell me to whom and where to complain I will add my voice to the fray! Just got back from two weeks in Frisco and could not believe this eyesore was still there. If they want to increase the value of the land – clean it up. Maybe Dare should look at giving them a one time tax break to cover the costs of bulldozing it.

Axemanco3 - 18-07-’15 09:10
Al Adam

Andrew,
You are on the mark my friend. The investment in demolition would return great dividends to these owners. Property values are coming back in the area and their are few parcels of that size left in the tri-village market, if any. I witnessed a similar situation years back with a decrepit property that had great value but the owner refused to do any site prep or even clean up. They finally sold it to an investor who simply cleared it and shortly thereafter sold it for twice what he paid. If this owner is concerned about being lowballed he has the ability to turn that around and get the real value for the property. Maybe they could even recycle some of the concrete for road base on the new jughandle project? Although it appears to be a nightmare site the right demo outfit would handle it like child’s play as there really is no difficult infrastructure to remove.

Al Adam - 18-07-’15 09:14
Billfish

Wouldn’t it be nice to get the media in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake involved in this? When things hit a little closer to home, maybe the Merjos might think twice about their reputation turning bad where it counts the most to them. Norkfolk reporters, are you listening?
Someone’s screwing with America’s national seashore experience. This is not just a local issue, but an American issue and even touches our international visitors. A little exposé could easily gain national attention.

Billfish - 18-07-’15 13:12
ccb

Every person that owns property here should take pride in keeping it neat and tidy, whether you live here or not. This place isn’t the only eyesore, just one of the most visible.

ccb - 18-07-’15 15:20
AnonVisitor

As a more than regular visitor, the waterfall park is an eye soar and drag on the whole area. I agree the land value of the parcel and surrounding parcels would much greater if all remnants of the park were removed.
I have to agree with Blindfish, some negative VA beach press coverage may help.

AnonVisitor - 18-07-’15 16:25
mydogcleo

I think the future of a HI water park may be doomed. Kids (and parents) who are addicted to video games, cell phones, and laptops are not as inclined to spend a day at a water park. Putt putts may be the next to suffer.

Would be nice if the county could pass a comdemnation ordinance concerning untitled and unlicensed vehicles, mobile homes that have been vacant for years and are not connected with electricity, and dwellings that have not been habitable for a number of years. We can preserve our rural village life without preserving junkyards.

mydogcleo - 18-07-’15 21:57
Al Adam

I think we are ultimately talking about zoning to create rules about what can be done with one’s property and how it must be maintained.
The z word is not taken to kindly in this part of the country where people feel strongly about their individual rights. Although I spent many years living where zoning was a given and the rules were anywhere from reasonable to ridiculous I have very mixed feelings about that can of worms. It is also doubtful that it could be applied to existing property.
Living here now I can see both sides of the argument and since Waterfall is commercial hwy 12 property it may be more difficult to put teeth into restrictions. Lots of folks get very sensitive about being told what they can and cannot do with something that rightfully belongs to them. The solution to this issue best comes from the owner wanting to maximize the return on the property and bringing it up to a marketable standard.

Al Adam - 19-07-’15 05:58
Ricky

Now who was that great president that said “ MISS MERJOS, TEAR DOWN THAT PARK”?

Ricky - 19-07-’15 07:36
David DeWell

I am surprised there isn’t some type of business code compliance that code force the owners to say :
1. Operate a functioning business on commercial property
2. Specify how business structure should have power, water, etc
3. Inspectable by county officials at any time during businesses percieved peak season.
4. Business specify the season it is open and if it does not have open hours all year, a written notice to the county as to why the business is not open that year. And have a restriction on how many years a business may stay closed.

I think that would help in this and future matters.

David DeWell - 19-07-’15 08:34
Mark

I travel 1,000+ miles every year to vacation in Avon with my family. We were amazed this year to see that the ex waterpark is still there. Take my comments as a visitor for what they’re worth, but seeing that pile of garbage in the middle of town makes me glad to leave Rodanthe.

Mark - 19-07-’15 09:24
BroncoBummer

If it as another poster said, that “the owner clearly doesn’t need the money”, then it must be that they don’t really care what out looks like, they are leaving it the way it is out of site and contempt for the local community, they clearly don’t have the money to clean it up, or they are waiting for the county to do something about it. Comparing this park to the crab pot houses in the area is ridiculous. The place is an eyesore, and a big one at that. It makes the community appear to be little more than a bombed out, third world nation. The county needs to take the gloves off and deal with this huge issue.

BroncoBummer - 19-07-’15 15:38
Dumps

The waterpark must not be of any value if the “scrap thieves” haven’t already cleaned it out.

Dumps - 19-07-’15 18:55
JimH

@Al Adam: You are right about zoning. I know some are working on it, but it will be in vain as there is no way it will pass. Too many people are against it.

To the others: You don’t understand how the vast majority of the people from RWS operate and you never will. They have no interest in anyone telling them what to do.

JimH - 20-07-’15 08:41
Rich in Waves

The Park serves us by setting up NC state police radar traps ! a real money-maker ! but not for us residents.

Rich in Waves - 20-07-’15 08:54
bill

my fondest memories as a child was at waterfall park i enjoy driving by it

bill - 20-07-’15 13:27
Ken

I have two words Eminent Domain

Ken - 20-07-’15 16:53
ken

Lease it to the concrete plant to build the new bridge. Tax revenue and a commercial site that is put to good use!

ken - 20-07-’15 16:59
salvo jimmy

Hey Rich,

Lift your foot and you will be OK.

salvo jimmy - 20-07-’15 17:02
Al Adam

Buffoonfish,
Your capacity to exaggerate and lie exceeds your capacity to quote the party line and fall in with your sheeple friends, which is indeed incredible.
You don’t care to hear any challenges to your “science” when it is imparitive that real science must be challenged to be verified. When low level operatives get little bits and pieces of info they tend to spew like you. Please don’t take this as an attack and feel comfortable in your little socialist world. It is folks like you that great leaders rely upon …. to assure that even their most inept policies are not questioned or challenged.
I am not very familiar with this low information social factor to which you so proudly belong but I am privy to what can happen to employees who play on the internet while they are supposed to be working…. even government employees!
While you are living proof that a little knowledge can be dangerous at least FKAA usually had some basis for most of his arguments. You did have some good points in your little tantrum, mostly those that I have made previously.
Cheers

Al Adam - 20-07-’15 17:03
bill sawyer

calling the owner names is ridiculous he didn’t compare himself to the lighthouse for no reason in the real world he brought nags head to hatteras something no one else ever accomplished on hatteras island

bill sawyer - 20-07-’15 18:21
T.W. Mangrove

On behalf of all Hatteras Island residents I would like to thank the Merjos family for giving us something to complain about. As everyone knows, complaining comes a close third to drinking and fishing as Hatteras pastimes. With the settling of the Oregon Inlet bridge debate a void had been left in our hearts. Oh sure, we have the NPS to complain about, and beach nourishment, and ferry tolls, and teacher salaries, etc., but there’s nothing like a romp at someones personal property rights to get a guy’s blood going. If only you would open a Confederate Flag factory on this property our righteous indignation would know no bounds.

T.W. Mangrove - 20-07-’15 19:59
salvo jimmy

T W,

I think it might take a mosque beside the flag factory to really get this going.

salvo jimmy - 20-07-’15 20:58
Al Adam

My apologies for my last post on this Waterfall Park issue. It was intended for the column on Improving the Seashore.

Al Adam - 21-07-’15 04:14
Bud

There are worse eyesores on Hatteras than waterfall park. Just look at the housing division at Rodanthe pier, and ‘wind over waves, and ‘south beach’, and Salvo colony, Mirlo, etc.

Bud - 21-07-’15 07:30
john salvo

well if its an eyesore what is the watermelon painted trailer fruit stand in rodanthe i don’t hear the yuppies complaining about that at least for now what really hilarious is if they knocked down a ride and built a brew thru the yuppies would complain about that too

john salvo - 21-07-’15 10:16
PH

Right on T.W. Dead right on!

PH - 21-07-’15 15:46
Commander G

My family has vacationed in Avon each summer for 22 years. We remember when Waterfall Park was a great place to spend an evening or an afternoon. But now it is nothing more than an eyesore whose only impact is to instill an image of neglect in the minds of visitors like ourselves. I commend the commissioners for their efforts. That property should be condemned and seized for public domain purposes if greed precludes the owners from selling at a fair price.

Commander G Asheville, NC Commander G - 21-07-’15 18:16
Ricky

One piping plover at Cape Point and one old water park in Rodanthe. Somethings never change…

Ricky - 24-07-’15 07:59
Kevin, Susquehanna county, pa

I see a lot of grumbling about the appearance of Mr. Merjos’ commercial property. I also suspect that most of the folks commenting (myself included) would resent this same pressure to change an aspect of our own property. Mr Merjos owns the property, and is relatively free to dispose or not to dispose of it as he sees fit, regardless of its visual condition. That all being said, also take note of Mr. Merjos perception of (and I quote the article)being ‘owed’ something by the county: “He said he and his family built the largest park on the island, which over the years has contributed immeasurably to the economy. In return, he said, they have gotten very little consideration from the state or the county, especially after Hurricane Irene.”

That folks, is the nut of the problem. It appears he wants to use the property’s present condition as leverage to obtain something he feels owed by “government”, read: NC residents.

For the record, my family and I have vacationed on Hatteras Island since 1979, so we too have witnessed the rise, fall, and decay of the property.

Kevin

Kevin, Susquehanna county, pa - 24-07-’15 09:00
Bob

Sure, it’s ugly…but in my opinion it was equally terrible looking when it was in operation. And so are all the going-out-of-business Wings type stores and junk like that. If driving through that one small run-down area ruins your vacation, I think it is you that have the problem. For me, it’s always interesting to see what has changed since the last trip. I’m sure some future trip I’ll see something different there and think to myself, “wow, that is neat”…or at least hopefully so…could end up with another ugly park just like it or yet another Wings store or nondescript strip mall type building. At least the run-down place is interesting to look at in its own way. Over the years I have seen a number of (admittedly smaller) properties in similar states of disrepair, and it’s always neat to see them rehabilitated, razed, or built into something new and great. I also live in the country where not everyone’s property is in upper-class perfect state, and that’s just the way things are…I guess I don’t live high enough in society to be properly disgusted. Given enough time, this place will turn around one way or another on its own…the property is too valuable to sit like that forever. I just hope whatever ends up there adds to the community…

Bob - 27-07-’15 13:46
Patrick Shanahan

Is there any contact information for Steve Merjos? I’m interested in making a documentary on this controversy and maybe this could help one way or another?

Thanks

Patrick Shanahan - 02-10-’15 23:21




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