Clayton News-Star

Nonprofit helped seal Clayton land deal

The Town of Clayton has signed a contract to purchase this 67-acre property on Little Creek Church Road.
The Town of Clayton has signed a contract to purchase this 67-acre property on Little Creek Church Road.

A conservation group worked between the Town of Clayton and a landowner to expedite a $1.2 million deal for future park land.

The North Carolina branch of The Conservation Fund facilitated the agreement that will allow Clayton to buy about 67 acres on Little Creek Church Road. The town has signed a contract for the land and plans to complete the purchase later this month.

The nonprofit, registered in Maryland and headquartered in Virginia, approached the town earlier this year about the possibility of banking more park land. Town Manager Steve Biggs said he had an existing relationship with one of the nonprofit’s employees, David Proper, who knew about the town’s desire to add park land in southeast Clayton.

Biggs said he worked with Proper in the past, when Proper worked for Wake County.

The Conservation Fund negotiated with the landowner, the Devra S. Massey Trust. Trustee Devra S. Massey, of Falls Church, Va., could not be reached for comment.

On June 27, the trust sold the land to The Conservation Fund for $1.2 million. Clayton will now buy the property from the nonprofit for the same price.

“When you have a good relationship, it pays off,” Biggs said, adding that The Conversation Fund also had a good relationship with the seller. “The seller understood and appreciated the value in public parks. Some people are strictly interested in the development interests because they think they can get more money.”

The Conservation Fund has conserved more than 211,000 acres across the state. Bill Holman, the nonprofit’s North Carolina director, said the group works with local, state and federal agencies to acquire land for parks, wildlife refuges and forests.

Tax returns show the nonprofit receives most of its funding through grants and contributions from foundations, corporations, individuals and government programs. The town paid for the nonprofit’s $35,000 in soft costs at the site, which included services like surveying, Biggs said.

Both Biggs and Holman said The Conservation Fund’s expertise in land negotiations helped expedite the deal, one Biggs said took less than six months.

“One of the principles we offer is that conservation real estate is what we are good at and can focus on full time,” Holman said. “They aren’t buying park land every day.”

The Little Creek Church property is vacant land with fields and trees. Johnston County land records show a one-acre pond.

By this fall, Clayton taxpayers could own nearly 200 acres of untouched land on the northeast and southeast sides of town. That includes the Little Creek Church Road property and two parcels on Covered Bridge Road. The town owns an 80-acre tract on Covered Bridge and is waiting to buy an adjoining 39 acres, pending an environmental agreement with the state.

The town plans to turn the Covered Bridge Road properties into a nature park along the Neuse River. It hasn’t yet talked about what to do with the Little Creek Church land.

“We will bring in neighborhood interest, stakeholders and users,” Biggs said. “A consultant, based on what they hear, will bring back a master plan.”

Biggs said in two to three years, the town would look to use bond dollars to develop both the Covered Bridge and Little Creek Church parks.

When asked if the town, which currently operates six parks, two greenways and a community center, is interested in buying more land, Biggs said, “We are finished land banking for a while.”