Highway to help for N.C. landowners

From an editorial Friday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

The N.C. Department of Transportation is like any purchaser: It wants to buy cheap.

Taxpayers can applaud that goal – until their property is in the way of the next highway.

A state law called the Map Act allows the DOT to designate land as part of a transportation corridor and place restrictions on its development. The status prohibits new building and requires approval for other uses that can take up to three years to grant. These provisions make it cheaper to acquire and clear the land when the state is ready to build its road. In the meantime, however, property owners are left in limbo. They’re often unable to use their property as they would like or get a fair price for it if they choose to sell.

On Tuesday, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of those property owners.

The court found that the state effectively employs its power of eminent domain as soon as it places property in a transportation corridor – not when it finally makes the actual purchase. Therefore, it owes fair compensation immediately, because owners no longer have free title to it.

Tuesday’s ruling, if undisturbed by a higher court, will fundamentally change how the state plans for highways. It may cost taxpayers more to purchase land. But government doesn’t get to exert its authority to the disadvantage of any of its citizens.