Multi-Phase Old Monroe/East St. John Project Underway

Officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation have already begun the land acquisition process for this project, which is expected to last until the end of the 2020s.

The project affects about seven miles of road which winds through Indian Trail, Stallings, and Matthews. In addition to improvements for vehicle traffic, crews plan to widen sidewalks, create designated bicycle lanes, and make other such changes.

Initial hearings were in October 2016, and officials approved an environmental impact statement shortly thereafter. However, mostly because of COVID-19, the property seizure process is just getting started.

What to Expect in North Carolina Property Seizure Cases

Aside from a few utility easements and miscellaneous other proceedings, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for almost all eminent domain property seizures in the Tarheel State. Eminent domain is the Constitutional process for seizing private lands for public use purposes. The state cannot take land in this way without paying just compensation to the private owners.

First, NCDOT announces the project and the affected private property. The project announcement, which must address the issues discussed above, most notably with regard to public use and necessity, comes first. Then, NCDOT sends notices to affected property owners.

These notices usually do not include purchase price offers. The agency usually talks about money later. More on that below. Furthermore, NCDOT usually only works with record owners. Tenants and other parties often get little or no notice in these situations.

Most private landowners partner with a Charlotte land condemnation attorney at this point. Land seizure is not a real estate transaction. It is a legal matter.

Next, NCDOT sends a government inspector to look at the land and value it. These NCDOT employees frequently approach these tasks objectively and with open minds. But that is often not the case. Based on this inspection and report, the government makes a purchase offer.

Our Charlotte land condemnation attorneys quickly evaluate this offer. We do not jump to conclusions and we do not automatically reject the first offer. In fact, if the proposal is fair, we often recommend that clients accept it. An early settlement is usually in everyone’s best interests.

However, most eminent domain cases move to the next phase, which usually involves an independent inspection and a professional financial appraisal. This appraisal usually looks at the whole financial picture. For example, if NCDOT wants to take part of your land to build a road, that taking might adversely affect the value of the remaining property. Owners deserve overall fair compensation, and not myopic compensation.

If NCDOT and a Charlotte land condemnation attorney negotiate a mutually-acceptable settlement, the case ends at this point. The current owner transfers the deed, and the matter is over. If no settlement occurs, the case moves forward.

At this point, NCDOT has the right to take possession of the disputed land and place the financial compensation in an escrow account. If the owner does not contest the notice, the case is over. If the owner contests the notice, the matter usually goes before an ad hoc commission. This commission reviews all the evidence, including the initial NCDOT report and subsequent independent evaluation. The commission may also hear testimony from the current owner and from other material witnesses.

North Carolina law includes a rather unique “second check” option in these cases. Property owners may ask for second opinions without adversely affecting their property rights. The state’s first offer remains in force. So, if second check settlement negotiations break down, owners can always fall back on the first offer.

One final note. Once the eminent domain process begins, it usually cannot be stopped. In most cases, the government will take the land sooner or later. The only issue is the amount of compensation. In some instances, courts have held that the attempted taking was completely unjustified. But in 2005’s Kelo v. City of New London, the United States Supreme Court broadly defined the right of eminent domain. So, such results are very rare.

Reach Out to a Dedicated Mecklenburg County Attorney

The government cannot take private property for any purpose without paying just compensation. For a confidential consultation with an experienced land condemnation attorney in Charlotte, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC.