Beltway landowners ask for help from NC Supreme Court

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(Image: The Winston-Salem Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A group of landowners in the path of the proposed Northern Beltway around Winston-Salem is asking the state Supreme Court to force the N.C. Department of Transportation to buy their properties.

In a petition filed before the state’s highest court, the landowners say that hearing the case now could help avoid years of delays through the court system on top of the delays they have already experienced since the state declared that their properties were in the beltway’s path.

“Let’s get some resolution for these folks, good or bad, so they can get on with their lives,” said attorney Matthew Bryant, who represents scores of Forsyth County landowners who are suing the state — not to prevent the beltway from being built, but for their properties to be purchased by the state.

Bryant represents some other plaintiffs who already have their case before the state Supreme Court on an appeal from a lower-court ruling that turned down the request to have all the landowners’ lawsuits consolidated into a class-action suit. Bryant said Thursday that the additional cases included in the new petition before the court deal essentially with the same facts.

“Now they have the rest of the story,” Bryant said.

The N.C. Department of Justice, which defends the N.C. Department of Transportation in court cases, was not able to comment on the filing Thursday.

The beltway is a proposed 34-mile freeway that would partially encircle Winston-Salem. The plan consists of two legs: A western leg that would run from U.S. 158 west of Winston-Salem to U.S. 52 north of the city, and an eastern leg that would connect U.S. 52 to Interstate 40 and U.S. 311.

Work on the western leg was originally scheduled first, but the project was put on hold in 1999 when opponents filed a lawsuit. In 2008, the eastern leg became top priority, and opponents filed suit again. By the time the lawsuit was dismissed in 2010, some property owners who had been waiting for more than 10 years were looking at more years of waiting because of the scarcity of state road money.

The petition charges that the state’s “business model” is to avoid paying property owners fair prices for their land by filing the map that defines the route of a future roadway. At the same time, they say, the state acts unfairly by buying out some landowners under a hardship program that has spent $15 million, while others are left waiting.

Landowners filing the latest petition were Eugene and Martha Kirby, Harris Triad Homes Inc., Michael Hendrix, Darren Engelkemier, Ian Hutagalung, Sylvia Maendl, Stephen Stept, James and Phyllis Nelson, and Republic Properties LLC.

All had sued the N.C. Department of Transportation in Forsyth Superior Court, which in June 2013 dismissed their claims. The cases are on appeal, but in their petition the landowners say they are getting older and that one of them, Michael Hendrix, has already died after he filed his case.

“We presented evidence that was uncontradicted that there have been very few market sales of property and no building improvements made in 17 years,” Bryant said. “(The state has) bought an enormous amount of property, including a junkyard and a church, yet they turn Mr. Hendrix down and now he is dead.”

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