Property owners in toll-road path: DOT 'holding us hostage'

Posted October 24, 2011 7:38 p.m. EDT
Updated October 25, 2011 6:08 a.m. EDT

— A group of people who own property along the proposed path for the extension of N.C. Highway 540 in southern Wake County say they plan to file suit over state regulations that they say are limiting their ability to sell or develop the property.

The state Department of Transportation creates "protected corridors" in areas where future highways are planned to restrict development and keep the cost of land acquisition low. Thousands of acres statewide are covered by protected corridors, including Wake County land slated for the southern extension of N.C. 540, which would be part of the Triangle Expressway toll road.

Many property owners within the N.C. 540 corridor, which has been protected since the 1990s, say they feel as if they're in limbo.

"We had offer after offer fall through," said Pat Johnson, whose childhood home sits on 63 acres near the intersection of Kildaire Farm and Holly Springs roads that her grandfather once owned.

Half of the property now includes a mobile home park, but Johnson has been trying to sell the land for years, saying the park just doesn't generate enough money. She also has a $35,000 annual tax bill, which she says she can no longer afford.

In 2002, when development in the area was booming, someone offered $9 million for the property, but it was later withdrawn.

The DOT has offered Johnson about $108,000 an acre for 11 acres of her property in the corridor, but she says that's only half of what the land is worth.

"There's no way I'm taking that," she said after giving the offer a "Bronx cheer."

Martha Wiseman, who has property in the protected corridor about 4 miles east of Johnson's land, said she believes waiting for DOT for 14 years has violated her property rights.

"Right now, we don't have any options. They still kind of hold us hostage," said Wiseman, whose attorney is drafting a class-action lawsuit.

The attorneys say they hope to bring fair value and true compensation to property owners along the southern portion of N.C. 540. They plan to hold an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Holly Springs Civic Center.

DOT spokesman Drew Joyner said the corridor law is intended to protect North Carolina taxpayers.

"DOT doesn't have an unlimited source of funding, so we buy (land) when it's necessary," Joyner said. "I don't think everybody could not sell their property. I think people would have opportunities to sell."

Johnson, who isn't part of the planned lawsuit, dismisses that argument.

"Well, I could sell it, sell it for beans," she said. "It's unfair. The law needs to be changed."