The Supreme Court of North Carolina recently decided that it is illegal for a state government agency to institute an indefinite property "freeze" by forbidding improvement, development or subdivision by the landowner, only so that the government can buy it cheaply from the owner at some unspecified time in the future. If any other government agency wishes to deprive land-owners of use of their property, it is required by law that the acquisition be "for the greater good" and the NCDOT must also give the owners fair market value compensation for that deprivation. This is known as eminent domain. When the government does not pay for that property or the acquisition is not for the greater good, this is known as effectuating a "taking", which is illegal.
In the deciding case, Kirby v. NCDOT, the land-owning plaintiffs argued that because the North Carolina Department of Transportation's use of the North Carolina Map Act of 1987 prevented them from making any improvements or modifications to the property, the department had illegally deprived the land-owners of the use of their land. "The [Map] Act imposes certain restrictions upon property located within [an area planned for development by the NCDOT] for a certain period of time." The plaintiffs were directly affected by the Map Act when the NCDOT placed their property and others near it as a site for future highway construction and subsequently prohibited any development on the property for over twenty years.
The NCDOT claimed that this restriction on the plaintiff's property was intended to reduce their acquisition costs for future highway development. However, in the eyes of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, this cost-controlling mechanism did not rise to the level of "for the greater good." Instead, the Court held that the NCDOT's improper use of the Map Act was "inadequate to safeguard [the landowners'] constitutionally protected property rights" because the NCDOT was effectively commandeering private property for two decades, and not providing any compensation for it.
The estimated value of the property taken is $650 thousand. Though, as it stands, the case will be sent back down to a lower level of court to determine the exact value lost by the land-owners as a result of NCDOT's takings.