Imagine this: You buy or inherit a tract of land and plan to build your dream home; the home you want to raise your family in; your retirement home. Before you can pour the foundation, the government designates your land part of a “Transportation Corridor”an area being considered for road development. The result: Your land is virtually worthless. You can’t build on it. You can’t improve it. You can sell it, in theory, but no one wants to buy land that can’t be developed. Oh, and you still have to pay taxes on the property. In effect, you bought buildable land, but got stuck with an expensive parcel of useless dirt.
That is happening right now to families all over North Carolina, including in New Hanover and Pender counties thanks to a pending road project called the Hampstead bypass. And right now, it is legal under legislation called the Map Act.
An article in the Wilmington Star and StarNews Online discusses this problem by highlighting the plight of land owner Elaine Brown. Her family has had property near Topsail Beach for generations, but her plans to build a home are in limbo thanks to the pending “but as yet unfunded” Wilmington/Hampstead Bypass road project.
Under powers granted to NCDOT through the Map Act, the agency can prevent land identified as a possible highway corridor from being developed. You can’t build a subdevelopment on it; you can’t build a single home on it for your family Effectively, the Map Act prevents land from even being sold. It is, Brown’s attorney David Henson [of Henson Fuerst Attorneys in Raleigh] analogized, as though the state government slapped a stabilizing boot onto the tire of your car in your driveway. You still own the car, officials tell you, you can go start it up, you can go sit in it any time you like. Just don’t try to drive it.
Henson Fuerst Attorneys represents more than two dozen land owners affected by the Hampstead Bypass, and we are continuing to file suit on behalf of land owners in the area. The success of these lawsuits will be dependent on the N.C. Supreme Court ruling on a case called Kirby vs. NCDOT. In that case, the Map Act was challenged on behalf of a land owner (Kirby) whose land was held in legal limbo for more than 20 years. A lower court ruled in favor of NCDOT. The Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, and stated that the NCDOT was, in effect, taking property without compensating the land owners. The agency appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in early 2016. If that decision upholds the Court of Appeals ruling, land owners will finally have recourse.
However, a “win” in the Supreme court still won’t be a slam-dunk for land owners. It will mean that when a property is declared part of a transportation corridor, it is considered “a taking,” which means that the state will move to condemn the property. It won’t keep land from being used for roadway projects, but it will allow land owners to get on with their lives. They can make decisions, sell the property to the state, and move ahead with other plans.
They will finally be able to move out of limbo.
In Map Act cases, Henson Fuerst and other attorneys are suing the NC DOT. We allege that when the maps were filed in the county Register of Deeds office, they effectively deprived our clients of the use of their land and property, and that our clients should be compensated for that taking as of the date of the filing. That translates in to money for landowners for the property or structures that were within the map corridors, plus interest since the date of filing, attorneys fees, and a refund of back property taxes.
If your property rights are being restricted due to this or other pending road projects, call us at (919) 781-1107, or visit our website at nclandlawyer.com for more information.
Here’s a video that explains more about the Map Act and how it affects property owners: