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Condemned By Highway
by Ron Davis

Compensation that the state of North Carolina owes two tenants of a Fayetteville shopping center may now simply be a matter of how much, if any, they will receive.

The shopping center is Colt Crossing, and the tenants are a Family Dollar store and a Food Lion store. At issue is whether the state can force the tenants to allow the state to acquire them both by condemnation. In so doing, that action will free up the two properties to allow a highway construction project to move forward.

Displeased with the amount of money offered by the state as reimbursement, however, the principal of the tenants balked, demanding “just compensation.” They also argued that “the tract of land known as the Colt Crossing subdivision…and depicted on the plat…be considered a single tract for purposes of these condemnation proceedings.”

In a condemnation proceeding of that type in North Carolina, a trial court must decide “preliminary issues regarding title to the land, interest taken, and the area involved in the taking.” A judge then decides all questions of fact other than damages and whether the Department of Transportation actually has a right to condemn the specified property.

And that’s not all. Next, the court must consider the extent of the taking of the property. Consideration includes such issues as the title and the specific area involved. A jury may then determine compensation for the taking.

Finally, if in determining whether a parcel of property is in fact a single tract with the objective of receiving damages, a court must consider three factors: unity of ownership, physical unity and unity of use. The court in this case pointed out that there is no single rule or principal to go by. But in some instances, the importance of those factors in an individual situation depends on the facts presented. In this case, the trial court judge, in concluding that the two parcels should receive compensation, based that decision on the following:

  1. The parcels are physically “contiguous” and therefore have physically unity.
  2. They have unity of use in that both parcels are currently used on an ongoing basis as “outparcels” of Colt Crossing shopping center, “pursuit to a common scheme or plan as depicted by the plat.”
  3. They are owned as tenants by the “entirety” and therefore there is unity of ownership.

On appeal of that ruling, however, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina pointed out that prior to any jury conclusion in the case, there must be a determination of “the area of land affected by the condemnation.”

Neither party in this case challenges the validity of the trial court’s ruling that the two parcels must be considered a single unified tract for the purpose of determining just compensation if deserved.

(Department of Transportation v. Riddle (No COA14—98))

Decision: July 2015
Published: July 2015



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