Wake County landowners fighting NC DOT over 'useless land'
Posted January 6, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — An attorney for three Wake County residents suing the state told a Superior Court judge Tuesday that the North Carolina Department of Transportation should buy land at a reasonable price from the owners who say the property is essentially "useless."
The plaintiffs are among 140 residents who own plots in what is considered a "protected corridor" – land set aside by the state for future highway construction – reserved for a potential path of the southeastern extension of Wake County's Interstate 540/N.C. Highway 540 loop.
Under North Carolina law, the property owners are unable to change the land, and the defendants claim the restriction has prevented them from selling it for the past 15 years.
They say no one wants to buy the land because the property cannot be developed.
Planning on the N.C. 540 project has been underway for years, but there has been no construction date set in southern Wake County.
There is also no guarantee that the DOT, which argues that it can't afford to buy the land, will use it, and there's no timeframe in which it must decide.
"We're, like, held hostage," Martha Wiseman, 73, of Apex, said Tuesday. "Our hands are tied. We can't do anything."
Wiseman and her husband, Mose Wiseman, say the state has purchased homes around the three-quarters of an acre of land that they've owned for 28 years but has yet to offer to buy the Wisemans' property.
"It's really over the last 12, 15 years that it's really had a negative impact on our quality of life," said Mose Wiseman, 76.
The couple is worried that the legal battle will continue and become their children's problem when they die.
James Deans, 79, of Apex, says he's found himself in a similar situation.
"Right now, the only thing we can do on that land is grow trees," said Deans.
He had hoped to develop his 20 acres and use the income for retirement. He is now is suing the state, saying that health issues force him to rely on his wife to continue working as a surgical technician to support them both.
"We're living paycheck to paycheck with $1.5 million worth of property sitting here that we can't do anything with," Deans said.
Although the DOT has purchased some of the land in the corridor, the plaintiffs argue that they are stuck paying property taxes on land that they are losing money on.
The complaints aren't the first for North Carolina. There are about 100 cases filed in North Carolina regarding the protected corridor law.
A ruling in any one of them could affect how the other cases turn out. The one that could be nearest to a ruling in from Forsyth County.