The NC Department of Transportation (DOT) is moving forward on widening South Churton Street from I-40 to Orange Grove Road. At last report, DOT plans to start acquiring land in 2022, with construction in 2024. If you own a home or a business along this path, what does this mean for your property rights?
What is Eminent Domain? The law of “eminent domain” allows DOT to take private property for a public purpose, like road widening. Trying to stop the project or contesting DOT’s right to take anything is usually wasted effort. Instead, property owners usually focus on obtaining the “fair and just compensation” the law requires.
What can DOT take? This project is not likely to have many “full takings” of an entire parcel. Road widening often involves “partial takings,” where DOT takes ownership of a slice of the parcel, or they take a permanent or temporary easement. A permanent easement may be for utilities, for a graded slope, etc. A permanent easement may sound less serious than taking ownership, but sometimes it can severely limit your use of the easement area – e.g., the ability to use it for parking, fencing, landscaping, etc. A temporary easement is usually for construction-related purposes. You will own the area under a temporary easement entirely when the project is completed, but you will lose some use of it meanwhile. For a partial taking, compensation is measured by the value of the whole parcel before the taking minus the value of the remaining property.
If DOT already owns some right-of-way on your property, they do not owe you anything for that area.
It may surprise you to learn that, by law, DOT does not have to pay for temporary or permanent lost business profits resulting from the project.
Don’t feel rushed – make an informed decision: After sending out its appraiser, DOT will send you an offer. Do not feel rushed, and do not feel you have to accept that offer. DOT will tell you a deadline to respond (often 60-90 days), but it is not a bad consequence if you don’t respond or accept in that time. It just means DOT will deposit their offer with the Clerk of Court and file a condemnation action. If that happens, you have one year to reply. In the meantime, you can file a motion to be paid the deposit AND reserve the right to seek greater compensation in court.
An appraisal is one opinion of value. DOT’s appraisal may contain errors or incorrect assumptions. It may be incomplete. You may want your own appraisal.
DOT tries to settle cases by negotiation. Being prepared can help you negotiate a higher number. Even if you think DOT’s appraisal is about right, DOT usually has a cushion to increase the offer slightly.
If negotiation isn’t successful, you have a right to a jury trial to decide fair compensation. Be aware that going to trial takes about a year, and will involve costs for appraisers or other experts. Therefore, negotiating an acceptable number may benefit you too.
If you have a mortgage, your lender must be involved in the case. It is a separate negotiation how much of the settlement or jury award goes to them, and how much goes to you.
An attorney can help you with many of these steps. Like me, most attorneys who can help with your eminent domain case will meet with you at no charge to discuss your case and to give you their opinion about a DOT offer.
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney with Steffan & Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough. She can be reached at (919) 732-7300 or email@example.com.