Annexing and Preparing Higher Ground Receiving Areas in Princeville, North Carolina Through Post-Disaster Recovery Processes

Executive Summary

In 2017, the Town of Princeville, North Carolina engaged experts and communities in a long-term, comprehensive planning process to annex a 53-acre parcel of land located outside of the town’s 100-year floodplain to develop a safer, higher ground area where residents, structures, and infrastructure can be relocated. After experiencing flooding impacts from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Princeville was selected as one of six municipalities in North Carolina to receive technical and funding support from the state through the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative. Princeville provides an example for other municipalities either in a pre-or post-disaster context for how to balance the preservation of original townships while dealing with flooding vulnerabilities, while increasing the resiliency of core community assets and services through adaptation actions. As done in Princeville, local governments may consider options for relocating vulnerable residences and community facilities and services, including by annexing new land where sufficient higher ground land within existing municipal boundaries is not available to reallocate critical land uses and maintain local communities, tax bases, and economies.



Princeville is a historic town located in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, within the floodplains of the Tar River. It was incorporated in 1885 (following the Civil War) - the oldest town incorporated by African Americans in the United States - and has a 2019 population of approximately 2,000, predominantly Black or African-American residents.1  Princeville has a long history of periodic flooding but in 2016, Hurricane Matthew flooded more than 80% of the town - affecting 350 homes, the Town Hall, elementary school, and the majority of local businesses. 

In 2017, Princeville was selected as one of six municipalities in North Carolina to receive technical and funding support from the state through the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI). The initiative was led by the Coastal Resilience Center for Excellence — an organization established by the U.S Department of Homeland Security and led by University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill that conducts research and education to enhance coastal resilience. With the Center, HMDRRI assembled and deployed an interdisciplinary group of university faculty and students and other experts to address both community- and state-level needs to recover from Hurricane Matthew. In Princeville, efforts through HMDRRI resulted in the production of multiple outputs to make the town more resilient, including a disaster recovery plan and Homeplace, a “conversation guide” for Princeville residents to enable them to learn about and inform residential design and construction options and strategies that can be integrated with long-term disaster recovery plans (e.g., greenspace and mixed-use development). In addition, Princeville worked with HMDRRI to develop managed retreat strategies that can increase the town’s resiliency to future floods. 


Managed Retreat Examples

In coordination with the town’s disaster recovery plan and Homeplace, HMDRRI, Princeville, and other partners are implementing a three-part approach to comprehensively evaluate opportunities for facilitating the transition of residents out of the 100-year floodplain by making investments in higher ground receiving areas. Here, the town utilized a Land Suitability Analysis to identify a priority 53-acre parcel outside of Princeville for annexation. Since annexing the land, the city is working with experts and the community to plan for the resilient development of this area through ongoing processes, including by convening a Design Workshop and regular community meetings. These three parts — the Land Suitability Analysis, annexation, and planning and community engagement — are discussed in more detail below.

Land Suitability Analysis to Identify Receiving Areas

In September 2018, HMDRRI released a Technical Memo: Land Suitability Analysis for Post-Disaster Housing Relocation and briefing document for Princeville (collectively the “Land Suitability Analysis”) to serve as a land-use planning tool to identify potential areas inside and outside of Princeville for redevelopment that provide both flood reduction and community benefits. Specifically, the Land Suitability Analysis considered 36 variables, such as environment and topography, flood risk, and the location of community services and transportation infrastructure, and prioritized certain variables to identify land options for relocating residences and critical infrastructure and services. As a result of the Land Suitability Analysis, HMDRRI concluded that only a few discrete, suitable parcels were located within the town’s current boundaries. However, HMDRRI also identified larger undeveloped parcels located outside of Princeville, including a 53-acre site that could support relocation and redevelopment efforts. The Land Suitability Analysis marked a starting point for Princeville’s officials to engage in further studies and planning efforts before acquiring or building on any of the parcels identified. 

Annexation of Receiving Areas

After the Land Suitability Analysis was completed in 2018, Princeville worked with the State of North Carolina to annex the nearby 53-acre parcel — located two miles from the Princeville town center and at a higher elevation area outside the 100-year floodplain — to implement this managed retreat strategy. The State of North Carolina purchased this privately owned land on behalf of the town. Following the decision to annex this land, Princeville initiated a community engagement process to specifically assist the town in planning for this move to higher ground. 

Planning for Receiving Areas and Community Engagement

Building on the Land Suitability Analysis, the town’s disaster recovery plan, and Homeplace, Princeville engaged residents to consider how the town could become more resilient after Hurricane Matthew to future climate change impacts. The town’s efforts included a five-day Design Workshop hosted by the Town of Princeville, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, and other partners, and focused on exploring and developing concepts for a relocation strategy, including on how the new 53-acre parcel should be developed. Several hundred residents as well as land-use planners, architects, and government officials attended the workshop. Over the course of the five days, the experts presented alternative strategies, tradeoffs, and questions to the town and community members that participated, and refined the alternatives based on the feedback and information they received. 

At the conclusion of the process, the workshop experts presented the community with four potential strategies for the annexed site that considered a range of design and construction options, including relocating or building new residences and some key facilities on the 53-acre parcel. Princeville is currently evaluating plans to relocate the Princeville Town Hall, elementary school and fire, police, and medical services to higher ground while maintaining connections to the existing town’s heritage and character, and connections to Princeville’s Historic Downtown. For example, the town worked with North Carolina State University to design and build a Princeville Mobile Museum to protect and share historical and cultural resources that might otherwise be lost to flooding. The Princeville Mobile Museum can be moved in advance of flood events and used to promote the town’s history throughout North Carolina. In addition, the relocation area can potentially provide safer affordable housing options for residents who are bought out. The community identified this as a priority need to avoid exacerbating affordable housing shortages if residents are bought out and no new homes are built to replace them. These higher ground investments can also help to minimize impacts to Princeville’s tax base by providing residents with opportunities to stay local. 



The annexation was funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Human Development Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery and other sources, such as the nonprofit Golden LEAF Foundation. Efforts implemented through HMDRRI were funded separately by $900,000 from different state and federal sources through disaster recovery appropriations and the Department of Homeland Security, respectively. 


Next Steps

The annexation planning and development process in Princeville is ongoing. After the Land Suitability Analysis and Design Workshop were completed, private contractors took over project responsibilities for implementing the plans for the 53-acre parcel and conducting additional feasibility studies. The Town of Princeville regularly holds meetings with community members to provide updates and continue seeking input.  


Considerations and Lessons Learned

Princeville is engaging with community members and stakeholders to work through the different considerations involved in planning for annexation and relocation, including respecting historical and cultural values. The culmination of the annexation and relocation planning efforts in Princeville present a model for how states and local governments can align post-disaster recovery efforts with proactive managed retreat strategies for rebuilding out of harm’s way before the next disaster. Princeville offers an example of how annexing land and engaging the community in this planning process can help to better prepare communities, improve infrastructure resiliency, and maintain local communities, tax bases, and economies. By annexing new land, Princeville utilized an acquisition tool that will enable it to make higher ground investments in receiving areas. The Land Suitability Analysis found that the town would have otherwise been more limited in terms of finding large parcels of land within its current boundaries that could meet the town’s recovery and redevelopment objectives. While municipalities can seek to identify receiving areas within their current jurisdiction, local governments and communities can also consider the potential for annexation, especially if a large number of residents will be in need of new affordable housing options after voluntarily participating in buyout programs. 

In addition, the community engagement process being implemented through the Design Workshop and other meetings is allowing the community to collaborate with experts and be involved in developing potential design solutions that respect the town’s history and cultural values and will maximize opportunities for connectivity with the annexed land. As a result, Princeville community members are being invited to take ownership of flood recovery and relocation processes. Regardless, the annexation of this parcel may raise important considerations including how the annexed land will affect the town’s governance structures, and the effect relocation will have on local community members. This can raise potential questions and impacts other local governments should be aware of when evaluating a similar approach.


Related Organizations:

  • Town of Princeville, North Carolina

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  • Engagement

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