A bill that would shorten the period within which the N.C. Department of Transportation can forbid development in the designated path of roadways has been filed in the N.C. House.
The bill would reduce the period of non-development from three years to 180 days.
But the attorney representing landowners in the path of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway says the state should scrap the time limits altogether and simply buy out landowners who are in the path of a desired roadway.
“Most states don’t have these limits,” said Matthew Bryant, who represents scores of landowners in the path of the Northern Beltway who want to force the state to pay them for their properties. “Very few states even use these gimmicks. They face up to their obligations to buy property when they want it or need it.”
A small group of beltway landowners won a victory against the state on Feb. 17, when the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that by designating their properties as being in the path of the roadway, the state had effectively taken their land without paying them for it – a process called “inverse condemnation.”
The N.C. Department of Transportation has not decided whether to appeal the ruling to the N.C. Supreme Court. If the appeals court ruling stands in that one case, Bryant believes that the other landowners in this area and other parts of the state can go forward with demanding compensation.
Under the Map Act, state highway officials can limit development in a designated highway corridor for three years, but landowners assert that the designation puts a permanent cloud over their property that reduces its value. Even though the development restrictions expire after three years, the highway designation does not expire.
The primary sponsors of the newly-introduced bill making changes to the Map Act are Reps. Paul Stam, the speaker pro tem, a Republican from Wake County; Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat; and Rob Bryan, a Mecklenburg County Republican.
As of late Wednesday, the bill had attracted nine secondary sponsors, including Rep. Evelyn Terry, whose district takes in southeastern Winston-Salem. Terry is a member of the transportation and transportation appropriations committees.
“That’s been a point of contention for a long, long time that needs to be fixed,” Terry said of the bill’s goals.
The Winston-Salem Northern Beltway will run 34 miles when it is finished and will form an arc around the northern perimeter of the city.
Only one section of the roadway is currently under construction – a stretch from Business 40 to Reidsville Road.
But a draft road-improvement plan by the N.C. Department of Transportation calls for starting work on three more segments over the next eight years.
The eastern leg of the beltway will run from Interstate 74/U.S. 311 on the southeast side of Winston-Salem and connect with U.S. 52 on the north side of the city. This segment is to become part of a completed I-74 that in North Carolina would connect I-77 near the Virginia line with the Wilmington area on the coast.
Many residents in the western leg of the proposed highway have had their properties designated a road corridor since 1997, and construction on the western leg remains unfinanced.
Although some N.C. lawmakers have spoken of scrapping the Map Act, the bill just introduced does not do that. Bryant said that lawmakers aren’t facing up to “the constitutional realities of restricting property for better prices.”
“The main point is that most states don’t have any sort of development restrictions,” Bryant said. “Instead of recognizing that, the legislature keeps trying to game the system.”