TEASER: Woodlake

Entrance to Woodlake Resort and Country Club.

The embattled Woodlake community near Vass is under new ownership, marking a turning point in the residents’ long plight to refill the empty lakebed.

Atlantic National Capital, an investment group based in Fayetteville, bid $3.5 million for the development during a foreclosure auction at the Moore County Courthouse on Feb. 25. The county received no competing offers during the upset-bid period, which ended Monday.

Keith Allison, a local businessman who has owned property in Woodlake for about 25 years, is involved with Atlantic National Capital. Shortly after its incorporation in September, the company obtained the deed of trust for Woodlake.

“The community seems to be excited about the change and — being part of the community — I’m excited as well,” said Allison, who is the president and CEO of Systel Business Equipment and a trustee at Methodist University in Fayetteville. “Different entities have worked hard over the last few years to make some progress, but they were stifled by the ownership, lack of financial resources and the liens on the property.

“It’s hard to make progress when you’ve got millions of dollars in liens and foreign ownership that’s not putting in money into the community.”

Woodlake has gone through multiple owners and three bankruptcies since it first opened in the 1970s.

The subdivision was built around Lake Surf, an impoundment created by an earthen dam with structural deficiencies, according to multiple safety notices issued over the years by the state. In 1980, Lovick Suddath and Henry Mayer, a German businessman, bought the development for $2.5 million.

During a routine safety inspection in 1988, the N.C. Department of Natural Resources discovered large cracks in the dam’s spillway. An emergency draw-down channel was built to drain the lake, which remained empty for several months while the spillway was being repaired.

A 1996 inspection found new issues with the dam, and repairs were made without the state’s approval. More cracks were discovered in 2009, prompting the state to serve Woodlake with a so-called notice of deficiency.

A repair plan was approved by safety officials, but the issues were never fixed. Four years later, the state served Woodlake with another citation.

Boex was ordered to fix the cracked spillway following a third citation in 2014. He filed for bankruptcy later that year.

In 2015, the development was sold at auction for a mere $750,000. The only bidder was Illya Steiner, another German investor with ties to Boex.

Steiner created a new organization, Woodlake Country Club Corp., to run the development. State officials agreed to give Steiner additional time to repair the spillway, but his company failed to meet the extended deadline.

The years of deferred maintenance led to a public safety crisis when the spillway nearly buckled under the deluge of rain from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Lake Surf was drained by the state, and the dam was dismantled to prevent water from pooling in the empty impoundment.

The loss of the lake adversely affected property values in Woodlake, which is home to about 2,000 people. Many of them said the lake was the reason they decided to move there in the first place.

Frustrated with Steiner’s silence throughout the ordeal, a group of residents decided to take matters into their own hands by forming the Restore Woodlake Committee. In 2018, the group spearheaded a class action lawsuit against Woodlake Country Club Corp.

The lawsuit accused the corporation of engendering the lake’s demise by failing to comply with the state’s orders to repair the dam before Hurricane Matthew hit. Superior Court Judge James Webb awarded the plaintiffs $40.6 million in compensatory damages and $121.8 million in punitive damages, but the residents have yet to see any of the money.

Allison’s daughter Janene Aul is general counsel for Atlantic National Capital, and she represented the company at last month’s auction. In an email to The Pilot, Aul said the company is partnering with the committee to “pursue restoration of the lake and dam.”

“The main thing will be to work together with the community, Moore County, and any local state and federal government officials representing those affected downstream by the lack of a dam, which ramifications can be seen from Spring Lake and Fort Bragg all the way to the coast,” she said.

Woodlake boasts an 18-hole golf course designed by Ellis Maples, the protégée of celebrated architect Donald Ross, and a large clubhouse converted from a mansion once owned by former Wake Forest College president John Oates. These amenities fell into disrepair under the previous ownership, but Aul believes they can be refurbished.

“There have been discussions with developers and PGA professionals in regard to restoring golf and the clubhouse for Woodlake,” she said. “This will all take time as there has not been any upkeep of either in years.”

Aul said Atlantic National Capital plans to work with the Woodlake Property Owners Association on “various projects and improvements to the community” in the months ahead. Local ownership, she said, means that “progress can now be made much more easily.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Comments that violate any of the rules above are subject to removal by staff.

Thank you for reading!

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading. Subscribe today and support local community journalism.

Digital Only Subscriptions

The Pilot

Get unlimited digital access and support award-winning local journalism, for just $5 a month. This includes access to the electronic replica edition of The Pilot.

Starting at
$5.35 for 30 days

Already have a Print Subscription? Get Digital Access Free.

The Pilot

As a print subscriber, you also have unlimited digital access. Connect your account now. Or, call customer service at 910-693-2487 for help.


Our system has been updated, if you are a current print subscriber and cannot obtain your unlimited access, please contact customer support 910-693-2490. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Home Delivery

The Pilot

Our best deal: Get all the news of Moore County delivered to your home each Wednesday and Sunday — and receive unlimited digital access to thepilot.com.

Starting at
$27.82 for 90 days