by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
The MAP Act has been a thorn in the side of North Carolina’s property rights laws since it was enacted in the late ‘80s. A recent article in the Fayetteville Observer quotes the writings of JLF’s Director of Legal Studies, Jon Guze, to describe the impact of the law:
As defined by the John Locke Foundation, which was always highly critical of the statute: “The Map Act gave the North Carolina Department of Transportation the power to impose absolute, permanent development moratoria on land within designated transportation corridors, thereby suppressing the value of the land and reducing the amount it would have to pay when it eventually acquired it for highway rights-of-way.
“NCDOT used that power to suppress the value of large tracts of land for years — sometimes even for decades — without initiating condemnation proceedings and without compensating the owners,” the foundation said.
Essentially, the law allowed the DOT to plot out where future roads were supposedly going to be built and place a moratorium on any development of those properties until the government was ready to build on the property. However, the government did not have to pay for these properties until it was ready to put pavement down, which left countless North Carolinians stuck in homes and properties they could not develop and could not sell for what could be decades. Despite the N.C. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling that the MAP Act is unconstitutional, the law was not officially repealed until June 2019 and many property owners have still received no compensation for the takings of their property. However, a recent N.C. Supreme Court decision ruled in favor of two homeowners who were affected by the MAP Act. The Fayetteville Observer’s Michael Futch writes:
In last week’s case before the state Supreme Court, Yarborough and his litigation team represented Sarah and Ted Chappell of Fayetteville, whose property off Raeford Road by Lake Rim had been subject to Map Act restrictions since 1992.
Their home sat in the path of the Outer Loop.
Reporter Julie Havlak recently detailed the severity of the state’s takings for Carolina Journal. Havlak explains:
Ted and Sarah Chappell first moved into their Fayetteville house in 1962, where they raised a family. They bought the land and the house 23 years later. Two years after that, the General Assembly passed the Map Act, which allowed the state to bar property owners from using their land if it was in a designated highway corridor. The act triggered hundreds of lawsuits and drove the state Department of Transportation into financial straits.
Along the way, it changed the course of the Chappells’ lives and destroyed the value of their land. The department’s 1992 map drew the Fayetteville Outer Loop roadway through the middle of the Chappell’s two-story home, sending the property value plummeting from $144,888 to $7,641, according to testimony from the Chappell’s appraiser.
The case is noteworthy because it will set precedent for hundreds of other cases with similar circumstances. The Fayetteville Observer’s Michael Futch writes:
“This was the first Map Act case tried with a jury,” Fayetteville lawyer Neil Yarborough said Tuesday. “It established how they try cases. What type of evidence is admissible and what evidence isn’t admissible. So therefore, this case established the types of evidence that would be admitted in proving damages in Map Act cases.”
It has been over three decades since the Chappell’s struggles with the DOT began, and they have still not received payment. What’s worse, the department does not seem suited to pay out these claims to victims of the MAP Act. Carolina Journal’s Julie Havlak writes:
The department isn’t prepared to pay. It dug itself into a $2-billion budget deficit in 2019. It blamed the Map Act and storms, though a state audit and McKinsey and Co. report blasted the DOT for careless overspending. The coronavirus punched another $300 million hole in its budget, and lost revenue could total almost $3 billion, said State Auditor Beth Wood.
“It is expensive to violate the property rights of citizens,” said Joe Coletti, John Locke Foundation senior fellow. “The decision exacerbates the self-inflicted cash crunch at the Department of Transportation.”
Read more about this case in the Fayetteville Observer here. Read Jon Guze’s research update on the repeal of the MAP Act here and Julie Havlak’s piece covering the N.C. Supreme Court’s ruling on May 1 here.