Donald M. Nielsen

100 N Cherry St, Suite 600
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
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Donald M. Nielsen

Don Nielsen's practice covers environmental, zoning, local government and administrative law.

Don has practiced law in Winston-Salem since 1990. He started his practice with what was then Petree, Stockton and Robinson (now Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton) and joined Bell, Davis & Pitt in 2002.

Don’s principal areas of practice are:

  • Environmental issues relating to real estate transactions and development, including Brownfields projects; 
  • Rezonings and special or conditional use permits before planning boards, boards of adjustment, historic commissions and local elected bodies;
  • Appeals of quasi-judicial decisions;
  • Environmental litigation; and
  • Regulatory matters before state and local administrative bodies.

Don has been actively involved in the community, from youth sports when his children were young to chairing a review of a police department murder investigation.  Among other things, he has been chairman of the Historic Resources Commission, a board member of the Forsyth County Environmental Affairs, president of the Forsyth County Genealogical Society, on the board of a community development corporation and president of his Kiwanis Club.  

Don met his wife while in graduate school in Virginia, and worked for a historical society in Boston before moving South to attend law school and bring his wife and children closer to their Carolina roots. Don is passionate about history, including family and local history, and enjoys travel to ancestral homes and different cultures. His wife, Tricia, is a maternal/child health nurse practitioner.


Duke University School of Law, J.D. with honors, 1990, Bell Scholarship, Technical Editor, Law and Contemporary Problems

Northeastern University, M.A.  Historical Administration, 1983

University of Virginia, M.A., American History, 1981

Hamilton College, A.B.  1979, Cum laude, Departmental Honors in History, Darling Prize in American History

Bar & Court Admittance

1990, North Carolina

United States District Courts for the Eastern, Middle and Western Districts of North Carolina

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Professional & Community Activities


North Carolina Bar Association Administrative Section; Environmental and Natural Resources Section; Zoning, Planning and Land Use Section Council

Twin City Kiwanis Club (Past President)

Lt. Govenor, Division 5, Carolinas District, Kiwanis International

Clemmons Presbyterian Church

Federalist Society


President, Forsyth County Genealogical Society

Board member, Wachovia Historical Society 

Chairman, Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission

Board member, Forsyth County Environmental Affairs

President and board member, Liberty Community Development Corporation

Chairman, Sykes Administrative Review Committee. Appointed to chair investigation of police department conduct and produce report for Winston-Salem City Council relating to murder conviction and ultimate exoneration of defendant.

Author of numerous legal and historical articles, including “Is Administrative Law Unlawful” in the NCBA Administrative Lawyer; “Lender Liability under CERCLA” and “Brownfields and Historic Properties in Downtown Development” in North Carolina Lawyers Weekly; “Notice and Appeal of Administrative Land Use Decisions” in the NCBA Land Use Law Quarterly; “The Revere Family” in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register; “The Mashpee Indian Revolt of 1833” in The New England Quarterly; and former monthly columnist for Triad Business News.


Business North Carolina magazine Legal Elite in Environmental Law (2004 –present)

Best Lawyers in America® in Land Use & Zoning Litigation (2012 – present)

Best Lawyers in America® in Environmental Law & Litigation (2013 – present)

AV Preeminent Rating, Martindale-Hubbell

Representative Experience

Environmental actions from leaking underground storage tanks to Superfund cases

Successfully represented (and overturned) commissions and boards in court, including town and county elected and appointed boards, and the Environmental Management Commission

Transformations of contaminated properties (Brownfields) to productive uses, including athletic fields, office and commercial development

Resolved regulatory disputes ranging from signage, nonconforming uses and restaurant regulation to environmental permits, neighborhood challenges and illegal dumping

In need of legal assistance and guidance in the area of complicated administrative law, we wisely chose to engage the law firm of Bell Davis & Pitt. Outcomes can be unpredictable in challenging government anti-business rulings, but Don Nielsen was effective in securing a positive outcome. Don was highly professional and provided extremely effective legal representation.

Tom Owens