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Preserving a Piece of the Woods

Reprinted from the Outer Banks Voice

NAGS HEAD — Nags Head and the N.C. Nature Conservancy have bought a 20-acre tract that was the center of a dispute last year over development in the Nags Head Woods Preserve.

The land, previously owned by Andy and Laura Deel, is on high ground in the center of the maritime forest.

“This is great habitat, and with the work of our partners, donors and willing land owners it will remain that way,” said Conservancy Steward Aaron McCall.

Most of the maritime forest is a protected area owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy. But there are some homes and privately owned parcels.

Nags Head commissioners approved spending $25,000 toward the purchase last month. Commissioner Doug Remaley voted against the contribution, calling it appeasement to avoid legal entanglements with the owners.

Together, the town and conservancy paid $545,000 for the land. The two lots were assessed in July at $467,700.

Town officials acknowledged that the Deels had initiated legal action over Nags Head’s handling of a site plan and conditional use request for a cluster housing development on the site last year.

At the time, conservation zoning in Nags Head Woods allowed cluster housing, which calls for development on concentrated pieces of large lots to preserve open space.

Most of the maritime forest is a protected area owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy. But there are some homes and privately owned parcels.

Plans by the Deels to build three homes — one they would live in and the other two rentals — touched off an uproar over what some saw as commercial development in the Woods.

Laura Deel is a wedding planner and concerns centered on the prospect of traffic and reception parties in the small development.

But the roadblock turned out to be not zoning but whether the project needed to be connected to town water and if a fire hydrant system that would use water from a swimming pool offered sufficient protection.

Commissioners, in a split vote, turned down the plan. Questions were subsequently raised about phone calls and e-mails exchanged before the vote.

In April, six weeks later, the Deels came back with plans for two homes, which were approved.

Commissioners later tabled a request by a lawyer for the Shaver Family Trust to do away with the cluster housing provision in the Woods zoning district.

The Shaver Family Trust owns a home near the property and had argued against the Deels’ plans.

About the Author

Rob Morris

Rob Morris is co-founder and publisher of "The Outer Banks Voice," an online newspaper in Dare County. He was the N.C. editor for "The Virginian-Pilot" for 12 years. Before that, he held a variety of editing and writing posts at the "Pilot" in the Hampton Roads area for 15 years and played a role in numerous award-winning projects. He was a reporter and writer with "The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette" and the "Daily Press" in Newport News, Va. He lives in Nags Head with his wife, Patty, and daughter, Libby, and plays golf whenever he can.