A House committee on Tuesday called for the repeal of a 1987 law that lets the state Department of Transportation block development indefinitely on private land it might want to buy, years in the future, to build new roads.
The unanimous vote to do away with the Map Act came as Senate members were proposing to amend the law instead, with new limits on DOT’s power to control landowners without paying them.
House Transportation Committee members acknowledged that removing curbs on development would make highway land more expensive for the state. But they were more concerned about landowners who suffer economic loss for years or decades, while DOT considers whether to take their property.
“The Map Act cannot be tweaked or fixed,” said Rep. Debra Conrad, a Winston-Salem Republican who co-sponsored the House bill. “It needs to be completely repealed so that we can come up with a new plan ... to find where we can meet our transportation needs, ... but also have better balance and respect for private property rights.”
Jim and Carol Deans once hoped to finance their retirement by selling or subdividing part of the 21 acres they own near Apex. They lost that option in 1996 when DOT, invoking the Map Act, included their property on its corridor map for an extension of the 540 Outer Loop.
“Fourteen years after I have retired, we’re watching trees grow,” Jim Deans, 79, told the House Transportation Committee recently. “We’re paying taxes on it. But we cannot develop it, and we cannot sell it.”
The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled last month in a Forsyth County case that DOT effectively took land from property owners without paying for it in the 1990s, when it invoked the Map Act to freeze development for a future Winston-Salem loop. Unless DOT persuades the N.C. Supreme Court to reverse the ruling, a lower court judge will order DOT to pay damages to the Forsyth landowners.
Corridor map filings
DOT has filed corridor maps for nine highway projects across the state since 1992, to block construction or other improvements that would increase the value of land that might be needed eventually. The projects include a planned leg of the 540 Outer Loop in southern Wake County.
Nick Tennyson, DOT’s chief deputy secretary, told the transportation committee it would cost about $600 million to buy all the 4,410 parcels DOT now controls with these corridor maps.
Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican, was the lead sponsor of a bill filed Monday to change the Map Act instead of repealing it.
Under Rabon’s proposal:
▪ DOT could not file a corridor map to freeze development until after it filed a final environmental impact statement that identified the chosen route for a new road. In southern Wake County, DOT still has not picked a 540 route or completed an environmental study.
▪ DOT would have to buy the land and start construction within 10 years after filing a corridor map. Under the current law, DOT can use a corridor map to block development indefinitely.
▪ DOT would have two years, instead of three under the current law, to either approve a development proposal for land controlled by a corridor map or purchase the land from its owner.
Bills face more review
Both Map Act bills face further committee reviews before they reach the House and Senate floors.
Tennyson said he could not comment on the Map Act while DOT appeals the related Forsyth lawsuit.
But a Raleigh transportation planner said the legislation and the lawsuit could prove costly for DOT and taxpayers.
“The real question is how much that right-of-way will cost in the future to acquire, especially if there’s development in the way that otherwise wouldn’t be there,” Eric J. Lamb, Raleigh’s transportation planning manager, said by email. “If we allow new neighborhoods or industries to be built in the path of designated corridors, that places a (threefold to fivefold) premium on buying property.”
Subdivisions and shopping centers have sprouted across southern Wake County since 1996 and 1997, when DOT filed two corridor maps to prevent development in a 1,000-foot-wide swath that marked its preferred path for 540 from Holly Springs to Garner.
“Had there not been a preserved corridor in place, how many homes and businesses would have to be relocated to build it?” Lamb said.
Much of the 19-year-old 540 corridor is clearly visible on satellite photos that show development that has flourished around its edges. A Map Act lawsuit filed by southern Wake landowners is pending in Superior Court.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican whose district includes parts of southern Wake, said legislators will need to look for other ways to discourage development that can make urban road projects expensive and disruptive. Rep. Dana Bumgardner, a Gastonia Republican, said that’s a problem to worry about later, after the Map Act is repealed.
“We have a problem there we’re going to have to do something about,” Bumgardner said. “But right now, we’ve got to pass this bill through.”
DOT corridor maps
The state Department of Transportation has used the Map Act to create corridor maps across the state, freezing development in order to limit land acquisition costs for nine future road projects. Here are some projects and the year the maps were created.
Year route identified
No. of parcels
Price of parcels
Mid Currituck Bridge, Currituck County
Southern Wake Expressway (540), Wake and Johnston counties
1996 and 1997 maps
Winston-Salem Western Loop, Forsyth County
Greenville Southwest Bypass, Pitt County
U.S. 17 Hampstead Bypass, Pender and New Hanover counties
Fayetteville Outer Loop, Cumberland and Robeson counties
Greensboro Loop, Guilford County
Shelby Bypass, Cleveland County
Winston-Salem Northern Beltway, Forsyth County
Source: NC DOT