Mike Thelen has a formidable reputation for navigating real estate controversies throughout North Carolina.  Mike pulls from his experience as a federal judicial clerk and Wall Street litigator to bring a creative approach to his practice, whether he is addressing the entitlement of controversial real estate projects in North Carolina or in controversies, including litigation, involving real estate. 

Clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to individual property owners have called on Mike to shepherd them through a variety of real estate controversies. He is deeply invested in both the business and personal goals of his clients and has successfully obtained and defended against land use entitlements for controversial developments, prosecuted and defended litigations involving real estate, and advised clients on business transactions involving real estate and on early-stage real estate disputes.
Mike is a widely published authority on real estate controversy issues in North Carolina and is often called upon by the media to shed light on complex legal issues and concepts. In addition, he routinely presents continuing legal education courses to state attorneys and contributes to the online legal, political and business communities through both long-form content and short-form social commentary.  Mike is the founder and lead editor of the North Carolina Land Use Litigator, a multi-platform resource analyzing land planning, zoning, development, and commercial real estate matters in North Carolina.

Presentations and Publications

  • Vested Rights, co-authored and co-presented with John Cooke, presented at the North Carolina Association of Municipal Attorneys Summer Conference, 2016.
  • Representing the Local Government Decisionmaker in Quasi-Judicial Proceedings, co-authored with John Cooke, presented at the North Carolina County Attorneys Summer Conference, 2016.
  • Key Developments in Local Government Powers and Land Use Law, presented at the annual meeting of the Real Property Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, 2016.
  • Rub a Dub Dub, the Clean Water Act Might Regulate Your Tub, North Carolina Bar Association Real Property News, 2014.
  • Rails to Trails or Rails to Trespass: Supreme Court Speaks on the Abandonment of Certain Railroad Rights of Way, American Bar Association Real Property Probate and Trust eReport, 2014.
  • Little Pink Houses: Debate Regarding Zoning Laws and Accessory Dwelling Units Getting More and More Relevant, published on www.accessorydwellings.org, 2014.
  • Public-Private Collaboration and Agreements, and the Tools in the Toolbox to Effect Them (with John C. Cooke), presented at the joint annual meeting of the Government and Public Sector Section and the Zoning, Planning and Land Use Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, 2014.
  • Defending Substantive Due Process Claims: Law and Practical Observations (with John C. Cooke), presented to the North Carolina Association of Municipal Attorneys, 2013.
  • Eminent Domain from Start to Finish, National Business Institute, 2013.
  • Permitted Uses and Neighbors' Standing After Fort v. County of Cumberland, North Carolina Bar Association Zoning, Planning and Land Use Quarterly, 2012.
  • The Administrative Land Use Decision As Both Sword and Shield, North Carolina Bar Association Zoning, Planning and Land Use Quarterly, 2011.
  • Absolute Bar, a Roll of the Dice, or Somewhere In Between: Divining Application of the Two-Month Statute of Repose (with Anna V. Short), presented at the joint annual meeting of the Government and Public Sector Section and the Zoning, Planning and Land Use Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, 2011.
  • Land Use and Zoning Law Litigation, National Business Institute, 2010.
  • Opportunities Created by Recent Legislation for the Land-Use Practitioner, Real Property, 2007.
  • Recent Developments in Delaware Business and Securities Law, Bank and Corporate Governance Law Reporter, 2009.
  • The North Carolina Development Agreement Law, A Matter of Perspective: Hot Topics for Land Use & Government/Public Sector Attorneys, 2007.

Civic and Professional Activities

  • General Counsel, LGBTQ Center of Raleigh (2020-2021)
  • Chair, Government & Public Sector Section of the North Carolina Bar Association (2019-2020)
  • Chair, Parish Council of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church (2017-Present)
  • Member, Board of Directors of the Visual Art Exchange, Inc. (2017-2021)
  • Member, North Carolina State Bar Association Zoning, Planning and Land Use Section (2010-Present)
  • Volunteer and Coach, YMCA of the Triangle (2016-2018)
  • Appellate Rules Committee, North Carolina State Bar Association (2010-2011)
  • Board Member, Leadership Raleigh Alumni Association (2014-2016)
  • Board Member and General Counsel, Capital City Clauses of Raleigh (2010-2013)
  • Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Leadership Raleigh Program (2010-2011)
  • Advisory, Notre Dame Club of Eastern North Carolina (2009-2011)
  • Member, North Carolina Museum of Art Contemporaries, (2010-2014)

Honors and Awards

  • Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America (BL Rankings), Land Use and Zoning Law, Real Estate Law, 2018 – Present
  • Selected to the North Carolina Rising Stars list by Super Lawyers (Thomson Reuters) in Land Use/Zoning, Real Estate, Business Litigation, 2013 – 2017

Representative Experience

Any result the lawyer or law firm may have achieved on behalf of clients in other matters does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.

  • Represents corporations and individuals in the land use entitlement process, helping them to obtain or prevent land use entitlements using local ordinance interpretations and appeals, rezonings, special and conditional use permits, subdivision plat approvals, site plan approvals, annexations, planned unit developments, and others. His representation not only extends to the local government-level, but to State or federal court, if necessary.
  • Litigates all manner of business disputes involving elements of real estate, from land boundary matters, to lease matters, to land purchase or land security matters, to partnership agreements, and beyond.
  • Drafts critical, operative real estate documents as well, including lease transactions, real estate transactions, and covenants.
  • Represents corporations in negotiating local government incentives in the development of real estate, including obtaining drafting and infrastructure and development agreements.
  • Represents property owners in controlling eminent domain projects and maximizing compensation in eminent domain matters, whether a taking by the State, a utility, or a local government.
  • Assists with branded real estate controversy in North Carolina including land use entitlement of high-profile, controversial real estate projects (or uses) (e.g., rezonings, subdivisions, zoning permits, zoning interpretations), and navigating high-profile controversies (disputes headed toward litigation, or litigations) involving real estate (e.g., zoning, subdivision, lease, covenant, easement and access, and condemnation disputes).
  • Pursues and obtains local government permits (e.g., zoning permits) for controversial land uses (manufacturers, distributors, retail, service) including large-scale grocery distribution centers, retail businesses featuring promotional sweepstakes, bars and nightclubs.
  • Litigates the denial of or defending to the award of local government permits for controversial land uses.
  • Litigates nuisance, lease, and local code enforcement matters.

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