News: Quick Takes

Map Act victims wary of Cooper’s transportation pick

Trogdon's previous stint at NCDOT, when he opposed settling with landowners in highway corridors, may be addressed during confirmation

The lead attorney representing landowners in a landmark property rights case says North Carolina residents must know how Gov. Roy Cooper’s pick for transportation will handle compensation for the plaintiffs.

Matthew Bryant of  Winston-Salem was key in instigating the Map Act lawsuit against the N.C. Department of Transportation decided last year in N.C. Supreme Court.

He says Jim Trogdon, Cooper’s pick for transportation secretary, has been “front and center” in the property owners’ ongoing legal battle. Trogdon, he said, has been part of the DOT’s delay tactics.

North Carolina’s Map Act, enacted by the General Assembly in 1987, allows the DOT to file a highway corridor map with local officials and prohibits local governments from issuing building permits or owners from subdividing property within the corridor. It was intended to hold down costs to the state for highway projects by preventing development.

“Our perspective is, is he going to be part of the problem?” Bryant said. “No one’s being part of the solution up there.”

Bryant said the delays will result in a lot of property owners, many them elderly, dying before they receive their compensation.

“Shame on them,” Bryant said.

While the N.C. Supreme Court didn’t invalidate the Map Act last year, it did rule that, by invoking the act, the DOT was a taking of the plaintiffs’ property, thereby requiring just compensation.

A Superior Court judge set a timetable last fall for the DOT to complete appraisals and begin making deposits to property owners within highway corridors under the Map Act.

But in late December 2016, the N.C. Court of Appeals blocked that order by issuing a temporary stay until an appeal could be heard. The Court of Appeals action was in response to a request by the DOT.

“It should be front and center in the confirmations,” Bryant said of Trogdon’s involvement in implementing the Map Act.

In an Aug. 20, 2010, letter from Trogdon to a property owner, Trogdon wrote that DOT officials contacted Forsyth County and Winston-Salem planning officials asking that they forward any property improvement request to DOT before a decision is made.

Others examples from Bryant included Trodgon’s deposition in the Map Act lawsuit, a photo of Trogdon at a property owners meeting, and an affidavit from one of the property owners about the meeting.

“He told owners that there was no timetable for purchasing property in the Beltway, and that it would likely be over 10 years before anything at all happened,” property owner Barbara Clapp said in her deposition. “Mr. Trogdon told owners like myself that we could not improve or subdivide property because that would increase the value of our property when NCDOT did get around to buying it. He did say we could paint and re-carpet. I found this insulting and thoughtless.”

Trogdon could not be reached for a comment. Cooper’s press office failed to respond to efforts seeking a comment.

The General Assembly is set to return to Raleigh on Wednesday for an organizational session, and plans to get down to business in earnest later this month. In December, lawmakers enacted a law implementing a state constitutional provision requiring the governor’s Cabinet officials to obtain consent of the Senate.

Lawmakers, after the state Supreme Court decision last year, approved a bill putting further implementation of the Map Act on hold and asking the DOT to come up with a different way of acquiring property in highway corridors.