A Cameron family land company is suing the state because of the impact a corridor map for the Hampstead Bypass project has had on about 1,800 acres on Sidbury Road in Wilmington, according to a complaint filed in New Hanover County Superior Court.
Sidbury Land & Timber LLC filed the complaint July 5 against the N.C. Department of Transportation and N.C. Turnpike Authority, alleging that the map for the U.S. 17 Hampstead Bypass project, recorded in 2011, “froze” the property and “prohibited its development, improvement and subdivision,” interfering with the firm’s property rights and causing a decrease in the land’s fair market value during a nearly five-year period.
The Hampstead Bypass, which would cross through Sidbury Road land, will connect Interstate 140 in Brunswick County to U.S. 17 north of Hampstead, with construction scheduled to start in the fall of 2020. That construction start time could be moved up to December 2019, said Chad Kimes, deputy division engineer with the NCDOT, on Friday.
The Sidbury Land & Timber property, at 7200 Sidbury Road, 7700 Sidbury Road and 8350 Farm Road, is zoned residential in a county where developable land is dwindling but demand for homes is on the rise. Members of the Cameron family, which has created major developments throughout the region, are managers of Sidbury Land & Timber LLC, according to state records. One of those managers, Scott Sullivan, declined to comment this week on the lawsuit.
NCDOT officials did not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit Friday.
In 2016, the N.C. Supreme Court said the map recording process described in state law known as the Map Act equated to a taking of private property rights for which just compensation must be paid, and state legislators rescinded the law.
According to the Sidbury complaint, “The impact of the recorded Corridor Map was to render the entire Property undevelopable and unmarketable for its highest and best from November 22, 2011 (i.e., the date the Corridor Map was recorded in the New Hanover County Registry) to on or after July 11, 2016 (i.e., the time the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation rescinding all transportation corridor maps and requiring their cancellation of record).”
The lawsuit says Sidbury Land & Timber is entitled to recover just compensation, all interest and other costs and expenses. It also says the state agencies should be “required to produce a composite map showing the entire property and the land taken, encumbered and damaged by its unconstitutional and inverse temporary taking no later than ninety (90) days from the date it files an answer to this Complaint or such time as the court may so order.”
Legislators also enacted a law that reduced the legal interest rate that could be paid in condemnation cases from 8 percent to the prime lending rate with a cap of 8 percent.
“The interest rate in this case should be the interest rate in effect on the date of taking, to wit, on November 22, 2011, not the current interest rate provided” in the amended law, the Sidbury complaint states in one of its claims for relief. Applying a lower rate, the complaint says, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Tyler Newman, president and CEO of business advocacy group Business Alliance for a Sound Economy (BASE), said corridor maps were, and in some ways still are, like placing a scarlet letter on a property.
“Obviously it's important that we have proactive transportation planning and efficient transportation systems to move people around the region as we continue to grow,” Newman said. “But it’s a significant property rights issue when you draw a corridor on a map and it really restricts the potential sale or use, lots of different things that have major property rights issues, which is why the law was changed.”
Correction: This version has been changed because the relationship of the DMV to the NCDOT was incorrect. The NCDOT oversees the DMV, which is not part of the local lawsuit.