Donna Creef retires after 33 years of service to Dare County

Published 8:35 am Monday, January 31, 2022

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Donna Creef, Dare County’s planning director, is retiring at the end of January 2022 after 33 years of service with the county’s Planning Department.

She was presented with a certificate of appreciation at the Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan. 18, 2022. Accolades were sounded by all Dare commissioners.

And for two days, Jan. 27 and Jan. 28, a floating reception – due to COVID restrictions – was held in the Planning Department’s conference room, graced with a beautiful floral arrangement and festooned with purple decorations.


Donna Creef, retiring Dare County planning director, stands with a beautiful floral arrangement in the Planning Department’s conference room. Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy photo

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During his 2021 State of the County report, Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert L. Woodard expressed thanks: “She a true professional in every sense of the word.”

Creef joined the Planning Department on June 1, 1988 as assistant planner. Her title was changed to chief planner. On Oct. 1, 2010, she became planning director.

Woodard said when Creef was honored at the board meeting, “her work has impacted and helped to mold the unincorporated areas of the county, making them what they are today — a great place to live, work, raise a family and also vacation. She has, without a doubt, played an integral role in ensuring the county strikes a balance between responsible development and the protection of our public lands’ abundance of natural resources.”

She has carried forward the tradition that the Dare County Planning Department is “user friendly.”

Duke Geraghty, with the Outer Banks Home Builders Association, spoke during public comment Jan. 18. He was in a committee meeting when Creef’s retirement was announced. He said the room got quiet. Folks looked around and then said “What are we going to do now?”

The association has members doing business in two counties and six towns. “It’s not always cordial,” said Geraghty. Asked what the homebuilders wanted, the answer was “just be like Dare County. Do it like we do it over there.”

At the Board of Commissioners salute, Woodard listed some of the Creef’s many planning accomplishments:

– Led the countywide public campaign to approve toll-free telephone calls to Hatteras Island. The campaign slogan was “YES for EAS!”

– Administered Coastal Area Management grant to construct Sandy Bay bathhouse on National Park Service property and for improvements at the Haulover Day Use Area between Buxton and Avon.

– Reviewed countless subdivisions. The Planning Board would sometimes have to meet twice a month just to handle business. It seems like the second monthly Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting was added because of all the planning business.

– Attended over 375 Planning Board meetings.

– Worked on zoning maps for Hatteras, Avon, Buxton, Colington, Stumpy Point, Manns Harbor, East Lake, Wanchese and other unincorporated areas of Roanoke Island.

– Wrote lots of ordinances, including zoning districts for the zoning maps, gross floor area limitations for commercial structures, revisions to the subdivision ordinance to streamline the process in 2011, flood ordinance update in 2020, travel trailer park ordinance update in 2021, zoning ordinance updates in response to General Assembly changes to Chapter 160D in 2021, nuisance ordinance, littering ordinance.

– Principal planner for the 2003 and the 2009 update of the Dare County Land Use Plan. The plans were written in house, not by a consultant. The 2021 update is in state review now.

– Assumed floodplain management duties in 2011 and was the first certified floodplain manager for Dare County. Her work was responsible for two class increases of Community Rating System discounts. Most recently, unincorporated Dare properties are now in class 6 and eligible for a 20% discount on flood insurance. Creef was named NC Floodplain Coordinator of the Year in 2014 by the NC Division of Coastal Management.

– Organized the OBX Community Rating System group in 2017 and serves as the facilitator for this group. This group led efforts for adoption of local elevation standards in response to 2020 flood maps by working with towns, Outer Banks Home Builders Association, Realtors and insurance agents.

– Assisted property owners with storm recovery from multiple storms including drafting substantial damage letters for property owners to secure funding to elevate homes.

– Recognized by the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce in 2019 for work on the zoning amendments to address the housing issue.

Former county managers Jack Cahoon and Terry Wheeler dropped by on Thursday. Creef was in the Planning Department under their administrations.

Current county manager Robert L. Outten wrote: “I am happy for Donna in her upcoming retirement and wish her all the best. It is well deserved. Donna made my job much easier. Her extensive knowledge has been instrumental in leading the county’s efforts to balance growth and development in a way that has enabled us to retain the character and charm that makes this such a great place to live, work, invest and vacation. Her dedication, professionalism, and knowledge has served the county well and she will surely be missed by me, our staff and all who interact with the Dare County Planning Department.”

Three Planning Board chairmen worked with Creef. Joe Stokes and long-serving Elmer R. Midgett were the first two. Current Dare Planning Board Chairman John Finelli dropped by on Thursday.

“I first met Donna in 2000 when she helped my community of Martin’s Point establish our zoning regulations,” wrote Finelli. “When I was approached several years later to be on the Planning Board, I agreed to serve out of appreciation and respect for her work, along with that of Elmer Midgett and the Planning Board. During our time together, Donna has never ceased to amaze me with all of the tasks that she performs, with her professionalism, and great attitude. I’m going to miss working with her. Donna is one of the most competent people I’ve met in business, and a pleasure to work with. And the best planning director on the planet.”

Beth Midgett, a Hatteras village resident and Planning Board member since 2004, wrote: “I don’t think many people understand the level of dedication Donna brought to her job. She always worked hard to keep the citizens’ vision of what Dare County should look like, feel like and live like on a clear and most importantly fair and balanced path for all. Whether working with a developer on a huge project or a single mom wanting to start a small in-home daycare she treated all as equals.”

In addition to planning, Creef as planning director had administrative duties for building inspectors, the grants administrator, Soil and Water Conservation staff, local Coastal Area Management permit officers and administrative staff. She serves on the support group when the Emergency Operations Center is activated, though much of her department’s work happens after the emergency has passed.

On Thursday afternoon, special folks showed up. It was a joyous occasion with lots of laughter at stories and remembrances.