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Homeowners in DOT's path seek legal relief

Posted August 30, 2013 3:36 p.m. EDT
Updated January 6, 2015 1:43 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of property owners in Wake and Johnston counties live in a protected corridor – the North Carolina Department of Transportation has designated their land for future road construction. At any time, DOT could decide to act on that claim.

That state of limbo – which has lasted more than 15 years for some – has homeowners itching to sue, but so far, the courts have said they don't have a case.

A similar situation exists in Forsyth County around Winston-Salem, and those property owners have a hearing with the state Supreme Court next week. Kelley Wingo is one of those In the Triangle who will be watching that case very closely. She is one of about 150 property owners in the protected corridor set aside for the future southern loop of N.C. Highway 540.

"Who is going to buy this property," she said. "No one can sell, and no one can move on."

Wingo and others say their hands are tied.

"Who is going to come buy this property? Because they're going to look at it and they're going say DOT is going through it," she said.

Legal wrangling about the route for the so-called southern loop has her and others in an endless wait-and-see cycle. DOT might never act. There is no guarantee the highway will be built and no time frame for a decision.

In the meantime, property owners like Wingo have little control over the property they pay taxes on.

"To build my barn on my property, I had to get DOT's approval, and you have to go through a whole process," she said.

In Forsyth County, courts have decided that property owners did not qualify for a class action suit, ruling that each property is different and owners should not sue as a group. Next week, those owners will appeal that decision.

Wingo says the impact and damage to property owners is the same, and it doesn't make sense to require separate trials.

"The problem is, as individuals, how can you stand up against DOT?" she asked.