The John Locke Foundation on Friday filed an amicus brief with the N.C. Supreme Court, urging the state justices to uphold an appeals court ruling in the Map Act case.
“We’ve always felt that it was unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional,” said Jon Guze, legal policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation. “We’ve been urging the General Assembly to repeal it or at least reform it for a long time. We’d hoped that might happen this past term, but it didn’t.”
Earlier this year, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the N.C. Department of Transportation’s use of the state’s Map Act amounted to a taking of property. Therefore, NCDOT owes property owners just compensation for their property.
The Map Act allows the N.C. Department of Transportation to prevent building permits from being issued on property listed in highway corridors.
The case specifically affects property owners in Forsyth County. However, similar lawsuits and Map Act filings have been made in Guilford, Wake, Cleveland, Cumberland, and Pender counties.
Matthew Bryant, the attorney representing plaintiffs in the Forsyth County case, said that the state could owe as many as 1,500 property owners a total of several hundred million dollars depending on the outcome of the case.
The amicus, or friend of the court, brief supports the plaintiffs’ claims.
“The plaintiffs are a group of property owners from Forsyth County who’ve been afflicted by the Map Act for many years,” Guze said. “This is another way to get rid of this unfortunate piece of legislation and have it declared unconstitutional.”
The JLF brief counters points made by NCDOT, which argued that the appeals court ruled incorrectly that using the Map Act amounted to a taking of the landowners’ property under eminent domain. Instead, the DOT asserts that it is using the government’s police power, much like local governments use in zoning and land use regulations.
“We’re arguing in our brief that it’s … a taking and all these people are owed compensation for the years they’ve been afflicted by back restrictions on using their property,” Guze said.
The JLF brief counters points made by NCDOT, which argued that the appeals court ruled incorrectly that using the Map Act amounted to an eminent domain taking. Instead, the DOT asserts that it is using the government’s police power, such as those used by local governments in zoning and land use regulations.
“Compared to the NCDOT, local governments are much more accountable to the people directly affected by any resulting land use regulations,” the brief says. “They are also in a much better position to gather the pertinent information about local conditions and local concerns, and to take that information into consideration in the development and application of those restrictions.”
The brief continues: “Furthermore, whereas the NCDOT has a vested interest in suppressing land values within transportation corridors, local governments will generally want to strike an appropriate balance between reducing right-of-way acquisition costs and other goals such as maintaining property values and promoting economic growth.”
The brief notes that the Court of Appeals found that the Map Act’s main purpose is not to provide for orderly growth and development, but to reduce the cost of right-of-way acquisition.
“For years the NCDOT has attempted to evade its duty to pay just compensation for land it plans to use for highway rights-of-way by imposing uncompensated, long-term development moratoria on that land,” the brief says.
If the plaintiffs win, Guze thinks NCDOT won’t use the Map Act again.
“There’s no point if they have to pay compensation,” Guze said. “The whole point of the Map Act is to reduce the cost to acquire land from highway right-of-ways. If they have to pay for the privilege they may as well just take the land in the first place, which is what they should have done all along.”
The case may be heard in the N.C. Supreme Court early next year.
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor at Carolina Journal.