PENDER COUNTY — Land rife with history, dating back to the 1700s, and connected to heavily used walking trails and a nature preserve has been sold to a prominent builder. Pender County has stepped in to help protect portions of the property the public has enjoyed for nearly a decade.
The land, located on Scotts Hill Loop Road, was recently sold to Mungo Homes, purchased from the Foy family. Well known to the area as founders of Pender County, the Foys settled over three centuries ago. They were the original owners and operators of Poplar Grove Plantation, located directly beside the 242 acres Mungo Homes purchased.
Listed by The Property Shop International Realty for $16 million, the acreage was on the market for over a year, with the sale pending at least over the last six months.
Posted as a Pender County Board of Commissioners agenda item, a lease agreement will be considered between the county and builder, a faction of Clayton Properties Group Inc.
“The purchaser of the property has approached Pender County to ask for the County to take over the maintenance and operation of Abbey Nature Preserve,” the agenda item states.
Planning director Travis Henley said the county has been working on this arrangement with Mungo Homes “for some time” but would not specify for how long.
Mungo Homes is a Tennessee corporation which constructs houses across the South, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. The company is already known in the area for neighborhoods such as Scotts Hill Village, Songbird Landing in Hampstead, Parsons Mill Farm in Castle Hayne, and others in Wilmington and Leland.
Its newly purchased land incorporates 60 acres of the Abbey Nature Preserve, a popular recreation area with 2-miles of trails leading to the privately owned property and abutting Poplar Grove. Mungo Homes has asked Pender County to maintain and operate the preserve for a mere $5 per year in the short-term to ensure it remains open to the public. The long-term goal is for the county to take formal ownership and establish the area as a county-designated park.
Situated right across the New Hanover County border, the land was first purchased by James Foy Jr., son of American Revolution Captain James Foy Sr., in 1795. Originally owning more than 1,900 acres, the Foy family has sold off bits and pieces over the years, including Poplar Grove, a National Historic Register Landmark, now owned by Carolina Lewis.
Lewis — whose stepmother purchased the land in the ‘70s — said she began hearing rumblings two years ago that the neighboring property might be sold.
“Then this past spring there was some hubbub on the Scotts Hill neighbor Facebook page,” she said. “The rumors were the trails were going to be sold.”
When a real estate listing finally popped up, Lewis contacted the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, knowing at least a portion of the area was to be preserved.
“We were all waiting for organizations to lead a campaign to save the land,” she said, “but crickets.”
In 2007, the Foys partnered with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to preserve a portion of its 242-acres. With funding from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Coastal Land Trust purchased a conservation agreement on 31 acres of the property. In conjunction, the Foy Limited Partnership (now known as Foxneck LLC) donated an additional 31 acres, making the total protected land 62 acres.
Later that year, the Foy family designed and built the trail system, a portion leading to the Abbey Nature Preserve, to open it for public access. Since not all was included in conservation easements, it was not protected from future development, Coastal Land Trust director of stewardship and community conservation Jesica Blake explained.
“Portions of the Preserve already border on existing development and will also border on new development once constructed, but public access will remain,” Henley confirmed, clarifying the county will be managing the trail system as well.
“The leased property includes all of Clean Water Easement Tract 31.64 acres, Upland Conservation Easement 31.07 acres, along with Abbey Nature Preserve entrance off Hwy 17, Farm Road, parking and trails within Tract 1,” according to the document.
Per the property listing, the tract comes with 180 acres of “unrestricted use.”
Though no development plans have formally been submitted to the county yet, Henley said under the land’s current zoning, the property could be developed into single-family homes and duplexes.
“The development could not include any townhomes, multi-family, or non-residential uses without approval from the board of commissioners via special use permit or rezoning,” he added.
Commissioners will consider the lease agreement at their regular board meeting Monday, July 11.
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