From North Carolina colleague Matthew Bryant comes a heads-up to this report from WFDD, the NPR affiliate, "Possible Twist in Winston Northern Beltway."
It's about an ongoing inverse condemnation fight in the Winston-Salem area over the N.C. Department of Transportation's designation in the mid-to-late 1990's of certain properties for acquisition for a bypass highway. But despite these designations -- which, under the state's Transportation Corridor Official Map Act meant that the property owners' development options were limited -- DOT acquired some, but not all of the properties. The DOT didn't buy them all because "[w]e simply do not have enough funding." For a scope of the acquisitions, see this map which shows the DOT-acquired parcels in red, the unacquired parcels in green, and the plaintiffs in the inverse condemnation case in yellow.
After more than a decade of waiting, the owners of some of the unacquired brought inverse condemnation suits to force DOT to take the land. As one owner is quoted in the WFDD story, "if you gonna build a road then build it and let people get on with their lives." The DOT didn't agree, countering that "lines on a map do not mean North Carolina is initiating the beltway. It is still planning."
Not so fast, responds Gideon Kanner:
However, appellate attorney Gideon Kanner says North Carolina is violating the 5th Amendment, "They are not allowed to reserve land. Someday we’ll build a highway here. In the meantime we’re reserving it and you can’t build on it. That is unconstitutional and is a form of taking." Kanner is base[d] in California and nationally recognized in representing plaintiffs in eminent domain and inverse condemnation cases. He says other states have used similar tactics to protect their interest at the expense of private land owners. "Whenever you have a delay in the eventual construction of something that imposes economic burdens, and when the government by its activities preceding the taking, deprives the owner the utility and benefit of property ownership, so he can’t build on it or get a permit from city hall, or the market responds, no one will buy property that will be taken away in a few years. If you do that to the owner, you have bought his property."
The DOT responded that the property owners "still have 'some' use of their land because they are living in their homes," despite the map designations. For what use qualifies as "some" use, see this "Protected Corridor" FAQ, which says that an owner can make repairs and minor renovations, and may sell the property, but may not subidivide, add to an existing structure, and "Develop land."
Listen here to more from WFDD:
A state court trial judge is currently considering cross-motions for summary judgment. Here are the briefs:
- Defendant's Combined Brief in Support of Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment
As for the photos at the top of this post (and below), these show two of the DOT-acquired parcels. It isn't exactly being good neighbor, as reported in "State to clean up beltway property."