Jerry Iverson moved to St. James from Texas about 14 years ago, but he’s known the area much longer than that.
“I married a girl from North Carolina, and her parents built a beach cottage on Oak Island in 1967,” said Iverson, who is president of the St. James Plantation Property Owners Association, one of the largest POAs in the state. “We’ve been coming to this area since 1967, spent most of our Fourth of Julys here with our families, so it was a logical place to
Iverson is one of thousands of people who have moved to the town, originally a development in an unincorporated area of Brunswick County, since the first house came out of the ground in the 1990s.
Homer Wright and partners John Atkinson and developer Claude Smith began creating St. James Plantation in the 1980s. The 6,000-acre development officially opened in 1991 and became the town of St. James in 1999.
In August of this year, the town grew by 400 acres after annexing the remaining land owned by the developers of St. James. Outside of being able to collect property taxes on the additional acreage, “the real benefit to us is with the development agreement because it gives us much more influence on what’s developed and how it’s developed and what have you,” said St. James Mayor Becky Dus. “It basically took it out of the county’s hands and put it in the town’s hands. It’s going to be a real benefit to us in the long run.”
The annexation allowed the developers to get their remaining property that was part of the development plan within town limits at one time rather than piecemeal, said Bobby
Masters, general manager of St. James Plantation, the parent company of St. James Properties.
Future development will likely continue to consist mainly of single-family homes, but one of the parcels in the recently annexed land could hold a mixed-use project with a combination of residential and retail space, Masters said.
“Developing what we have left will be pretty much along the lines of what we’ve already done. It will basically continue out just like we’ve done all these years, which is primarily single- family residential, and depending on the market, it could have some higher density but the market will dictate,” he said.
These days, the homes there have been a sizzling part of Brunswick County’s hot real estate market.
Masters said the developer has about 500 single-family lots left to sell. St. James Properties handles sales and resales, and Masters estimated that in 2017 so far, the company has handled close to 400 transactions.
“Right now we’re a little over 10 percent over what we were last year, and in 2015, we were 25 percent over 2015,” Masters said of the pace of St. James property sales and resales.
About 3,300 homes have been built in St. James since 1991, with an expected maximum of 5,200.
Masters estimated that with a building level of about 150 to 200 homes a year, St. James could have a decade left of residential construction. When new neighborhoods are in the works, the town will be able to review and approve them, Dus said.
“We’ll have some input as to what’s built there,” she said of the recently annexed acres, input that will be backed by a refined development agreement. “The developer had several areas in the agreement with the county that probably could have either been single family or multifamily, and in all but one of those, the developer agreed they would not go to multifamily.”
According to the St. James Plantation Property Owners Association (POA) website, the purpose of incorporating St. James into a town in 1999 “was to provide self-determination and independence to the residents of the St. James development, particularly in the face of possible annexation by several neighboring towns.”
Residents pay POA dues of $830 a year that cover roads, parks, the development’s beach club and security. The town does not have a police force. Residents pay a property tax rate of 5 cents per $100 of valuation.
Iverson said many residents are full time, while some spend six months living in St. James and six months elsewhere. Many are also retirees, and the residents of St. James are well-known in Brunswick County and beyond for their volunteerism, Iverson said. Over the years, the St. James Service Club has donated more than $1 million to local causes.
As St. James continues to grow, so do residential and commercial developments, around the community.
One example: Property set aside for a planned community, Mirasol, is near the main entrance of St. James on N.C. 211.
“We’re working with a couple of different homebuilders groups. We’ve realized that the commercial portion might have been a little bit too ambitious right now at this time, so what we’re looking at doing is changing our master plan for the development of the project, increasing the amount of home lots that would be in the rear and then swing to the left-hand side of the property, maintaining an area for future commercial development with office/retail, maintaining the current outparcel layout that we have,” said Nicholas Silivanch, partner and vice president of retail leasing and sales for Eastern Carolinas Commercial Real Estate.
He said the changes “would basically add townhomes and apartments as well as single-family lots and increase the density of the single-family lots.”
Silivanch represents Mirasol developer and landowner Malcolm Jones. He said the development has secured an access point on N.C. 211 with a left turn lane.
“We’re really excited about the development, and we’re looking forward in the next 90 to 120 days of making some serious progress with some of the homebuilders on lot scheduling and takedowns and starting our permitting process on that,” Silivanch said.
Inside St. James are restaurants at each of the community’s four clubs and a restaurant at the St. James Marina called Tommy Thompson’s Grille, where “you can sit there and eat outside and look out at the boats,” Iverson said.
He said the Dosher Wellness Center, a two-story, 26,000-squarefoot medical complex near the west entrance to St. James, has been “a valuable addition.”
Masters said St. James Plantation’s developers have sold property to Liberty Healthcare, which is expected to use the property to offer assisted living and nursing care sometime in the future.
In the meantime, St. James is expected to continue to grow.
“I think we fit within the area, and people recognize the good works that are done and the money that’s put back into the economy here,” Iverson said. “I think there’s good relationships all around.”