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The undeveloped southern tip of Topsail Island put up for sale

Watch a Topsail Island sea turtle release

2019 has been a boom year for sea turtle nesting on the southeast Atlantic coast, and Topsail Island has seen its share with 172 nests this season. Watch as volunteers with the Topsail Island Sea Turtle Patrol release hatchlings into the ocean.
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2019 has been a boom year for sea turtle nesting on the southeast Atlantic coast, and Topsail Island has seen its share with 172 nests this season. Watch as volunteers with the Topsail Island Sea Turtle Patrol release hatchlings into the ocean.

UPDATE: This story has been corrected to show the southern tip of Topsail Island is in a conservation district.

The isolated southern tip of Topsail Island, a 26-mile-long barrier island north of Wilmington, is now for sale.

The 110-acre property is being listed for $7.9 million by Cape Fear Commercial, a real estate firm in Wilmington.

There has been no development on this part of the island, which is set off by a line of dunes from a subdivision called Serenity Point. It has drawn affection from residents and visitors for its idyllic quality, where few footprints can be found in the sand and there are clear views of marshes and the ocean.

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The southern tip of Topsail Island, pictured via Pender County’s GIS map, is for sale. Courtesy of Pender County GIS

A News & Observer article from 2004 compared the land to being “at the end of the world ... with the Atlantic waves chewing at the shoreline in front of you, and a vast, wind-sculpted stretch of dunes at your back.”

But in an era when many of the state’s barrier islands have been fully developed, the land offers an opportunity to buy one of the last large oceanfront tracts in southeastern North Carolina, according to the real estate listing.

Port City Daily, a website based in Wilmington, first reported the land had been put up for sale this month.

The McLeod Family LLC, which lists a Wake Forest address, owns the land, according to Pender County land records. A voicemail left with the McLeods went unreturned Sunday.

The land has one mile of water frontage and a tax value of about $2.9 million, according to land records. The property is currently zoned as a conservation district, according to Michael Rose, the town manager of Topsail Beach.

“Under the Town’s zoning ordinance, (the) land is only permitted to be used for beach access, and only under certain conditions may it be used for pedestrian water access walkways,” Rose said in an email.

Rose added that the town has had a good relationship with the owners of the land over the years.

“The town has a long and valued history of collaborating with the owners of the property ... to allow the public to access the property, including through a lease of a portion of the Property for public parking,” Rose said. “Over the years, the McLeod family has also been very generous in its collaboration with conservation stakeholders to protect the very unique habitat and species found on the property.”

News of the potential sale was met with dismay by many people who live on the island or have vacation homes there. Many suggested that it should be considered a public space and bought by a conservation group for preservation.

One attractive feature of the property is that it’s expected to keep growing, rather than be washed away by the surf. That’s because Topsail Island has been slowly migrating south over the years, with the island growing by 125 feet per year, according to Cape Fear Commercial.

The land has already “considerably increased in size due to the steady and consistent accumulation of sand along the oceanfront and southern boundary,” Cape Fear Commercial said. The firm notes, however, that the property is still within the flood plain.

The town of Topsail Beach’s land use plan says that the southernmost tip of the island is at “extreme risk to erosion during storm events.” The town also notes that part of the island has grown significantly from the “accretion sand from the north and from off shore for the last 20 years.”

Coastal erosion

That movement of sand along the barrier island has left beach houses and condo buildings in North Topsail Beach vulnerable to erosion for years.

Properties located on the northern end of the island have been so affected by erosion, flooding and storm surge that it was recently named a prime candidate for government buyouts, according to an analysis by the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. A total buyout of the more than 300 properties identified as at risk would cost an estimated $30.1 million, the Coastal Review Online reported.

Sea level rise will make matters worse, both at North Topsail and elsewhere along the North Carolina coast.

The state was among the nation’s leaders between 2010 and 2016 in building homes that will be in the 10-year floodplain if a moderate sea level rise projection holds true, The N&O previously reported.

Researchers found that more than 1,900 homes worth $840 million have been built in areas that are likely to be in a 10-year flood zone in 2050 even if global emissions are cut roughly in line with the guidelines set in the Paris Accords. Two Outer Banks counties, Dare and Currituck, were both in the top 10 for most at-risk homes, according to a study done by Climate Central and Zillow.

The Atlantic Ocean is eroding parts of North Topsail Beach by about five feet per year. The town of 800 residents is running out of cash and solutions in its efforts to protect its north shore. Whose job is to save this popular North Carolina tour

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate

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