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Wake County landowners fighting NC DOT over 'useless land'

Posted January 6, 2015

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— 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.

12 Comments

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  • leeloo67 Jan 7, 2015

    There is a ripple effect too - we bought in Knightdale on purpose prior to the bypass going in, knowing KD would become "attractive" after that. We moved to the 40/42 area due to the 540 plans - and of course 540 was never completed through that area. We also had a job loss around 2007. Long story short what should have been income for us when we moved turned into a mere break even situation. 10 years of trying to carefully "invest" wasted. There are probably many many other ripples like this.

  • Wheelman Jan 6, 2015

    The state or any government shouldn't be allowed to do this. If they want the land, then buy it. If they're not sure they want it, then they should have to lease it with an option to buy for a short term (3-5 yrs.) If they don't exercise their option, then the government loses to opportunity and cannot condemn it and take it through eminent domain later. If they buy it and then later decide not to use it, they can do just like the rest of us...sell it for what you can get for it. People shouldn't be punished because of poor planning and too much red tape.

  • CrewMax Jan 6, 2015

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    That is an ingenious idea.

  • Rod Runner Jan 6, 2015
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    The property tax belongs to Wake County, not the state. Wake County didn't do this to the land owners.

  • itsnotmeiswear Jan 6, 2015

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    To avoid the traffic which is only going to get worse, I would in a heartbeat.

    It should be state law that any property subject to this restriction should have the property taxes waived during the restricted period. The counties will more than make up the loss in revenue from the eventual growth.

  • Trevor Jan 6, 2015

    With the increased tolls and IF the road is built to I-40 who is really going to pay excessive toll to bypass Raleigh?

  • Alexia Proper Jan 6, 2015
    user avatar

    It really is unfair. I feel for anyone who owned property that was effectively taken hostage by the government. Either the development restrictions should be lifted or the government should buy the land.

    The root of the problem is not being able to decide where to build the road. That's just nuts.

  • busyb97 Jan 6, 2015

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    Good idea...waive the taxes at the very least!

  • M1962 Jan 6, 2015

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    They should do both!

  • Roger Way Jan 6, 2015
    user avatar

    Seems to me that the state should either pay a reasonable lease for the land or waive any and all property taxes on lands held in a protected corridor. Another example of indifferent Catch-22 legislators, I suppose.

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