Location: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Highlighted Element: 422.b. Deed Restrictions (DR)

Point of Contact: Donna Heffernan, Administrative Zoning Technician & Rob Testerman, Director of Planning and Inspections-Kitty Hawk, NC

Kitty Hawk is a small coastal town within North Carolina's Outer Banks-a long stretch of barrier islands running most of the length of the state's coast (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016). Kitty Hawk is famous for being 4 miles north of Kill Devil Hills where the Wright brothers made the first controlled powered airplane flights in 1903 ("Kitty Hawk North Carolina," no date). Kitty Hawk is only 8.23 mi2 and 7 feet above sea level ("Kitty Hawk North Carolina," no date). The town's population is 3,272 according to the 2010 census (US Census Bureau, 2010).

To learn more about how your community can earn credit for deed-restricted open space, check out the Green Guide profile of CRS element 422.b. Deed Restrictions.

Kitty Hawk's success with element 422.b. Deed Restrictions is due to Kitty Hawk Woods, a 1,825-acre maritime forest. In 1990 the Kitty Hawk Woods was nominated as an Area of Environmental Concern by the state's Coastal Resource Commission, which recommended the area be acquired and conserved (Berger, 1998). At that point in time, 1,400 acres of this forest was privately owned by a company creating plans to develop some of the area (Berger, 1998). So in 1992 when the town was presented with the opportunity to acquire some of the privately-held lands, Kitty Hawk, with the support of its Mayor (Clifton Perry), negotiated a deal with the company (Berger, 1998). The final agreement was reached over the course of several years and in the end the town was able to acquire the title to 461.5 acres of maritime forest. The state currently has a conservation easement on these lands, which protects them from development (Wilkerson, 1993; Town of Kitty Hawk, 1991). This natural area has been incorporated into the NC Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and was designated as a State Nature Preserve in 1992 (Berger, 1998).

Raised trial in the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. Image courtesy of the Town of Kitty Hawk
Raised trail in the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. Image courtesy of Kitty Hawk.

The key driver was the many partnerships used to implement this element. Community leaders recognized Kitty Hawk Woods was a boon for current and future town residents, and wanted to ensure future residents would be able to use, enjoy and study these woods (Berger, 1998). Kitty Hawk used a grant from USFWS, the Division of Coastal Management within the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the state, Carolina Natural Heritage Program and the Town Advisory Committee which consisted of The Nature Conservancy, University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute and Division of Forest Resources (Berger, 1998North Carolina Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources, 1994). These groups worked together to develop the Kitty Hawk Woods Management Plan (Berger, 1998) and the state helped generate some of the legal documents required to create the conservation easement.

Donna Heffernan, Kitty Hawk's administrative zoning technician, stressed the importance of getting residents' support in passing the easement and the continued maintenance of the area. The original committee wanted residents involved, and there is a need for volunteers to help with the management of the Kitty Hawk Woods. There is not a lot of financial support at this time, so it's important to keep all actors involved to continue support from multiple groups and residents.

Most of the labor associated with Kitty Hawk Woods management is volunteered by residents or conducted by coastal reserve staff who work full time doing research, education, and outreach. Most of the initial costs were incurred in the 1990s when the coastal reserve and conservation easement were created. That was due to the legal fees of setting up the easement, but most who worked on it were working directly within the normal duties of their jobs. Currently, aside from an annual committee meeting, maintaining this natural area requires very little time and effort.

Turtles bask on log in Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. Image courtesy of the Town of Kitty Hawk.
Turtles bask on log in Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. Image courtesy of Kitty Hawk.

Kitty Hawk has noticed many benefits associated with their deed restrictions, such as flood attenuation, reduced flood risk and improved water quality. Rare species of plants, animals and fish have flourished in the reserve as the conservation easement protects and allows them to thrive. The Coastal Reserve conducts research and many educational studies in the area as well.

A key challenge associated with Kitty Hawk's deed restriction is that private landowners can dislike the restrictive nature of some of the easement, which dictates what they can and cannot do with their property. While this challenge should not be overlooked, in general, residents do not seem to have a hard time understanding the rules of the deed restriction and are supportive.

The Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. Image courtesy of the Town of Kitty Hawk.
The Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. Image courtesy of Kitty Hawk.

Heffernan's advice to others is, "If you feel like you have something special in your community, then you should work to preserve it. It is critical for future generations." Everyone is drawn to coastal areas and they all want a piece of the land. It is important to preserve land now as it will benefit the community as a whole for years to come. Finally, Kitty Hawk officials encourage others to persevere. There will be obstacles and compromises along the way, but you can always overcome them. Make sure to listen to all of the parties involved and let them know that they are heard.

Best practices shared by this community:

  1. If you feel like you have something special in your community, then you should work to preserve it. It is critical for future generations.
  2. Persevere! You will hit obstacles and there will be times you must compromise. Know that this is to be expected and that they can be overcome.

Through element 422.b. Deed Restrictions and other efforts for which the town can receive credit, Kitty Hawk has reached a Class 6 rating in the CRS. This has resulted in a 20% reduction in the cost of flood insurance for most policyholders.