North Carolina’s Supreme Court held that a state law carving out potential future highway projects represented an unconstitutional taking of residents’ property without just compensation. In Kirby et al v. North Carolina Department of Transportation, 56PA14-2, a group of Winston-Salem landowners challenged the state’s Roadway Corridor Official Map Act, better known as the Map Act, saying it wrongfully allows the state to invoke eminent domain to condemn their land without proper payment for future corridor highway projects that are part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s long-range transportation plan. The justices affirmed a state appeals court ruling that the state had to pay the property owners, concluding that the Map Act implements an indefinite restraint on fundamental property rights through eminent domain. That 1987 law gave the state agency the power to chart out official roadway maps, creating protected corridors for future highways and indefinitely barring property owners with parcels within those corridors from getting building permits to improve, develop or subdivide their property.
“The Map Act’s indefinite restraint on fundamental property rights is squarely outside the scope of the police power,” the justices said. “No environmental, development or relocation concerns arise absent the highway project and the accompanying condemnation itself. Justifying the exercise of governmental power in this way would allow the state to hinder property rights indefinitely for a project that may never be built.”
The justices remanded the dispute to the lower court with instructions to crunch the numbers on the value of the loss of the landowners’ fundamental rights, specifically by calculating the value of the land before the corridor map was recorded by NCDOT and the value of the land afterward, according to the opinion. Other factors would also have to be taken into account, including the restriction on each plaintiff’s fundamental rights, as well as any effect of the reduced ad valorem taxes, the court said.