WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – On Tuesday, the State Court of Appeals ordered the North Carolina Department of Transportation to pay potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to homeowners in the Triad.
“The decision today says, enough, pay these people without further delay. And those are exact words, ‘without further delay,’” said attorney Matthew Bryant, who represented the landowners suing NCDOT for compensation.
In Guilford and Forsyth Counties alone, more than 300 landowners sued the state DOT for not paying them, after taking their property for future road projects, including the Northern Beltway around Winston-Salem, as part of the Map Act. The lawsuit was filed almost eight years ago, and about a year ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the homeowners. But, NCDOT appealed the decision.
On Tuesday, the justices decided to dismiss the appeal because the court found the appeal was a “way to procrastinate the administration of justice,” quoting and citing a different court case.
For landowners, this case has carried on far too long, leaving them in limbo.
“It’s been almost 10 years now that we have lived without being able to sell our house,” said Paula Smith, who lives near Kernersville.
Smith found that out when a real estate agent told her the land was in the pathway of an NCDOT future road project – the Northern Beltway. From her house down the street, homes on either side would eventually be torn down. But even though her property was in the state's possession, she's never seen a nickel.
“We knew what the state was doing was wrong. But we did not realize there was a word: Inverse condemnation. So that was kind of nice that we had a word and a way to fight it,” Smith said.
Bryant represented Smith - and the 300 plus landowners fighting for payment since 2010.
“The 34-mile project was $294 million of real estate values in this county that were stolen by the Department of Transportation,” said Bryant, “They just took them. And they were going to pay for them when they felt like they would pay for them.”
On Tuesday, the State's Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the landowners, saying the Department of Transportation must pay them for what they took - plus interest and other costs.
“The Department of Transportation cannot dodge the bullet anymore,” said Bryant, “Just because it is expensive, does not mean you can delay it.”
The Department of Justice represented the state, and said it was reviewing the decision and would work with NCDOT on how to move forward.