The legislature wasn’t the only branch of government back in action today.
The state Supreme Court returned to the bench to hear argument, opening the first of three scheduled sessions this week with a case involving the state’s little known “Map Act.” As detailed in this case preview,
North Carolina’s Map Act permits the DOT to file a map with the local register of deeds identifying property where it anticipates putting a road and, with that, protect all property along the corridor from development or any other action that might improve the value of the property – in effect, holding down the purchase price until the DOT is ready to buy.
The case, Beroth Oil Co. v. N.C. Department of Transportation, landed before the court after Forsyth County property owners along the path of the proposed Winston-Salem Northern Beltway — many of whom had been living with the prospect of a road running through their neighborhoods for 17 years or more — had asked the trial court to allow them to sue the Department of Transportation as a class and force the department to buy their respective parcels of land. Both that court and the Court of Appeals denied that request, telling the owners that they’d have to sue individually.
Before a standing-room only courtroom, the justices struggled with having to determine a procedural appeal — whether class certification was properly denied — in a case where the constitutionality of the underlying Map Act clearly troubled them. Of particular concern was the DOT’s apparent ability under the Act to freeze properties for an unlimited period of time until it decides to build a road and then buy those properties.
For example, addressing the DOT’s 17-year delay in connection with properties along the proposed Northern Beltway, Justice Mark Martin asked what time frames other states with comparable Map Acts had and then added:
“At what point does delay have constitutional implications?”
Read more on the Court of Appeals decision and the issues before the justices here.