Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Pender County, Mungo Homes reach deal on new park connecting Abbey Nature Preserve

The trails leading to the Abbey Nature Preserve will be lost to development, but Mungo Homes is donating land to Pender County to create a new access point. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

PENDER COUNTY — Development is imminent over a large portion of trails leading to the Abbey Nature Preserve. Yet, county officials are working with the new property owners to maintain as much of the natural area as possible.

READ MORE: 242 acres sold to Mungo Homes in Scotts Hill, county to maintain Abbey Nature Preserve

Pender County and Mungo Homes have reached an agreement to create a new county-owned park to the east of the Abbey Nature Preserve. It will allow for continued public access, something nearby residents have been concerned over, with Mungo’s impending construction of 137 homes taking place in the near future.

Last July, 242 acres of land in Pender County, adjacent to Poplar Grove Plantation, was sold to Mungo Homes for $16 million. For centuries, the property had been owned by the Foy family — founders of Pender County more than 300 years ago.

Mungo plans to clear-cut 65 acres of forestland, flora and fauna habitat, wetlands and what is a significant section of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor during phase one of construction.

There will be single-family lots built atop land that currently contains walking trails leading to the nature preserve. The development was approved by-right, without requiring zoning or special use permit approval.

Commissioners entered into an agreement with Clayton Properties Group Inc., owners of Mungo Homes out Tennessee, last summer to take over maintenance and operation of the Abbey Nature Park for $5 annually. 

Pender County officials have been negotiating with Mungo Homes regarding a new public park and access to the preserve since.

Though the 62 acres of Abbey Nature Preserve are protected by a North Carolina Coastal Land Trust conservation easement, the walking trails are not. The Foy family built the trails in 2007 and opened them for public use. 

People from Pender and New Hanover counties — the property borders both — have used the trails and preserve for decades. When the development was announced, they feared there would no longer be access to the space. 

The current Abbey Nature Preserve parking lot off U.S. 17 will become an access road to the new development, meaning the current public entryway will be lost.

At the July 10 meeting, commissioners will consider an amendment to the lease with Mungo, making temporary park access more permanent via a different location.

The temporary park will be where Humble Roots Farm was once located. The Foys leased the land to Humble Roots since 2013; the contract expired Friday. Humble Roots relocated the farm 45 minutes from Wilmington and 20 minutes west of Burgaw.

Mungo Homes will construct a new 20-foot-wide gravel drive, with access to Scotts Hill Loop Road, a gravel parking lot with 40 spaces, and a mulched walking path connected to the existing trails at the southeastern corner of the Abbey Nature Preserve property.

The developer will pay to install utilities for the park and donate the conservation easement land to the county — 5.3 acres, to the east of the nature preserve, for creation of a new public park.

The contract will require Mungo to make improvements before closing the current access point, the gravel lot beside Poplar Grove, to the Abbey Nature Preserve.

At the July meeting, county staff will present the new agreement outlining four goals: 

  • Ensure the nature preserve remains open to the public
  • Establish a modern, permanent park
  • Protect as much of the property as possible
  • Find cost savings to reduce the impact to the county budget

Without Mungo Homes’ land and infrastructure donation, the county would have to cover the costs.

County commissioners will also vote on a $360,000 budget amendment to build a picnic shelter and restroom on the new park land. A more detailed plan for the park will be forthcoming.

Residents living in the vicinity of the new development have been advocating for as much preservation as possible. A core group of five launched the Saves Scotts Hill website and advocacy group.

“Obviously it’s about awareness but we do want to mitigate and see what we can discover about the terms about what’s going on and whether questions should be further looked into there,” resident and Save Scotts Hill organizer Jennifer Mackenzie told Port City Daily in April. “We’re a robust force, we just need to organize and show up to meetings and let our voices be heard.”

So far, members of the group have shown up to multiple planning meetings to express their concerns about traffic, flooding, and preserving the natural land, to be caused by development.

Friday, the group met with Pender County staff to learn more about the relocation of the trailhead. Mackenzie did not provide an update to PCD about the Friday meeting ahead of press.

Based on their research, the 65 acres Mungo plans to clear cut will remove an estimated 8.5 million square feet of tree canopy and many miles of roots. They also fear the added development will exacerbate future flooding.

Saves Scotts Hill’s main goal is to have a seat at the table modifying the county’s ordinances to ensure development is balanced with natural habitats, transportation systems and existing neighborhoods.

The current park entrance will close by September or October this year, while Mungo begins clear-cutting the land. Both Mungo Homes’ neighborhood and the county’s future park are intended to be completed by 2025 or 2026. 

Pender County Commissioners will vote on the agreement and proposal with Mungo Homes July 10.

Tract A will be clear-cut for Mungo Homes and tract B will be the temporary county park for access to Abbey Nature Preserve. (Courtesy Pender County)

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to show Tract B, formerly Humble Roots Farm, will provide temporary access to Abbey Nature Preserve, as permanent public parking will be provided at the entrance to the Mungo Homes development off Scotts Hill Loop Road. Port City Daily regrets this error.

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