BEFORE HAWKINS, P.J.; ROBERTSON AND PITTMAN, JJ.
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
This action arises from a complaint by homeowners in a "quality" residential subdivision in Hancock County seeking to enforce against the development company certain restrictive covenants in a planned-as-quality sister subdivision. The development company precipitated the dispute when it changed horses in midstream and began using unsold lots in the sister
subdivision as a recreation vehicle (RV) campground. The Court below enjoined that use.
We hold that the homeowners have standing to sue, that the RV campground is not a use permitted under the covenants and that, by reason of its predecessor's marketing strategy, the development company is equitably estopped to vacate the plat and engage in the use. We affirm.
In the spring of 1977 L & A Contractors began work on a recently acquired 3,600 acre tract of land in Hancock County which surrounded White Cypress Creek. Various tributaries of the creek were dammed, creating a number of lakes and ponds. The largest of these man-made bodies of water is Lake Cypress, which covers 120 acres.
In 1980, after the first 280 acre subdivision (known as "Woodhaven") had been platted and sold, a group of investors led by Talmadge D. Bickham, Jr., organized as "Talmar, Inc," purchased the entire project. Talmar continued to develop the area, particularly the land around Lake Cypress. Bickham commissioned a "Master Plan" to be drawn up by a local civil engineer. This master plan called for the entire subdivision to be developed in phases, thirteen in all.
The area surrounding Lake Cypress, denominated "Mallard Point" Phases I through VI, was the first area subdivided and developed. Plats of Mallard Point Phases I through V, and restrictive covenants covering each specific plat, were recorded in the land records of Hancock County on August 14, 1980. The lots in Mallard Point varied in size, but all were a minimum of three acres.
The master plan also recognized the demand for smaller lots. The land immediately east of the Mallard Point area bordering the 64 acre, man-made "Quail Ridge Lake" was subdivided into lots averaging one acre in size. The plats and restrictive covenants for "Quail Ridge Estates," Phases I & II (and the rest of the White Cypress Lakes development) were completed by December, 1981. At this same time, the plat and covenants for Mallard Point, Phase VI, were finalized and recorded. The ownership of the platted land was transferred to Talmar, Inc., while title to the property kept for future subdivision was held by Bickham personally.
Sales of the lake-front lots at White Cypress Lakes
commenced in 1982. Most of the homeowner plaintiffs in this action purchased their property in 1982 and 1983. Promotional literature for the development included the following representations:
The basic difference between White Cypress Lakes and other rural developments is that its land is measured in acres instead of feet. White Cypress is an acreage development. . . . no tract can be subdivided. . . . Talmar, Inc. has zoned each area of the huge development for its most suitable use. The zoning plans assure owners that quality will surround them. The types of structures and the uses of those structures are designated in each area.
After the first eleven phases of White Cypress Lakes had been substantially completed and most of the lots sold, Talmadge Bickham died. By deed dated January 31, 1985, Bickham's estate transferred all of the unsold lots in White Cypress Lakes as well as the surrounding undeveloped land to the newly-formed "White Cypress Lakes Development Corporation" (hereinafter "the development company"). The group of investors organizing this corporation included some of Bickham's business associates who had worked with him on the White Cypress Lakes project. This new development company thus assumed ownership of the entire portion of White Cypress Lakes designated as Mallard Point Phase V, comprised of thirty-two lots, averaging three and one-half acres each. Phase V also included over 2,000 feet of frontage on the western shore of Lake Cypress, including an area which was designated on the master plan as a ten acre recreation site.
The development company soon made known its plans for Mallard Point, Phases V and VI - an RV campground affiliated with a nation-wide association of resort campgrounds, "Camp Coast-to-Coast" . *fn1 The development company began the ...