Dave Owens Honored with Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award

David Owens

Planning and development regulation are among a local government’s most visible—and fraught—responsibilities. For decades, North Carolina public officials have depended on the guidance of School of Government faculty members in creating, interpreting, and applying land use law in their communities. For over three decades that group of faculty experts has included David W. Owens, the Gladys Hall Coates Professor of Public Law and Government.

Owens’s outsized expertise and legacy in this realm are undeniable. Now, the School is proud to announce that Owens has been named a recipient of the prestigious North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine award by the Office of the Governor.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is the highest recognition for state service granted by the North Carolina Office of the Governor. Created in 1963, the award honors “persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.”

Owens was surprised with the award at the American Planning Association-NC Chapter (APA-NC) 2021 Conference, held this week. He received the honor alongside the APA-NC Robert Reiman Award for Professional Achievement.

“Dave is a steadfast public servant who has used his scholarship to improve the lives of North Carolinians,” said Mike Smith, dean of the School of Government. “He has prepared the next generation of North Carolina’s planning and zoning professionals to their jobs and to do them well. With the technical knowledge he has imparted on his successors, I know North Carolina’s communities are in good hands.”

“Over the course of his career, Dave has provided generations of North Carolina planners with sage advice, thoughtful interpretations of legal precedent, and access to his incredible institutional memory,” said Hanna Cockburn, APA-NC president. “We congratulate Dave on this well-deserved recognition.”

Owens’s career in service to North Carolina is extensive. He is a widely cited expert and historian in land use law and has published several foundational texts on the topic, including the definitive Land Use Law in North Carolina. He has assisted with significant revisions to the statutes governing land use law in the state, including efforts in 2005 and 2013. Most recently, he served as a committee member and primary secretary for a multi-year effort to enact a comprehensive reorganization and modernization of the state’s land use law. The resulting legislation, Chapter 160D of the General Statutes, took effect on July 1, 2021.

Owens has spent his career sharing his knowledge on an array of subjects with local officials, state officials, UNC graduate students, and community members. In addition to land use law, his expertise covers local government authority, urban growth management, regulation of religious land use and adult businesses, conflicts of interest, planning legislation, and coastal management law and policy.  

He has long been a dedicated member of the UNC and local communities. Owens served on the Chancellor’s Buildings and Grounds Committee from 1995 to 2020, on the Carolina North Steering Committee, and on many community and state boards. He was recognized in 2011 with the first Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award.

Prior to his arrival at the Institute of Government in 1989, Owens spent 10 years with the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management. He is a three-time graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and was named the Gladys Hall Coates Professor of Public Law and Government in 2007.