The NC Department of Transportation is pushing ahead with purchase of properties along the route which will create a four-lane US 221 from the intersection of US 421 in Deep Gap to Jefferson, preparing to acquire land. And with that, a group of former DOT attorneys is holding an informational session Thursday night
in West Jefferson. NC Eminent Domain Law Firm’s “second check” approach comes in after officials make their initial offer, the free session to offer pro bono advice on options for property owners, according to attorney for the group, Stan Abrams, who outlined the process from the DOT side, “Someone on behalf of the DOT will contact the property owners and begin the process of acquiring their property. And then what will happen at some point after the first contact, the DOT will send out an appraiser to come out and appraise the property. The DOT will use that appraisal, and they will make an offer to the property owner as to what the DOT says is the just compensation—what the DOT owes—for the taking of their property.”
But Abrams said there are things people miss in the process, and don’t understand the rights they still have, “Keep in mind that the right of way agent, the appraiser—all these people—certainly work for the Department of Transportation, not necessarily work for the property owner—that’s kind of important. The other thing too is, we talk to property owners all over, and a lot of them will feel in some way like they’re obligated or they have to accept what they’re offered at some point by the DOT, and so the important thing to remember there is there is certainly you’re not obligated to accept what the DOT is offering.” Abrams said, “What happens is the DOT is then required to deposit the amount of that first offer—the amount of that appraisal—into the Clerk of Court’s office in the county in which the property is located.” And he said, “And what sometimes people miss is this; with the correct legal filing, you can file a motion to have that money withdrawn from the clerk’s office. That money can be yours, and in the meantime you can continue throughout the court process to try to get more money for the taking of your property.” Abrams also explained that just the value of the real property taken is not the only consideration, as taking portions of a person’s property can devalue the rest of the property in a number of ways.
Joe Dean Ledbetter of the DOT, talking to Boone Chamber members earlier this month, said that the project is large enough that it had to be divided into three parts, and one of those missed a deadline for former funding parameters instituted by the State Legislature last year, “The missing piece is between Idlewild Road and the elementary school—is the section that was scheduled for completion later.” He said, “It was too long of a project to really—with our cash flow situation we can’t commit to that much money to contract at one time, and it’s just not very feasible for a contractor to build a project that long all at once. So we broke it into three projects, so we’re going to have them working on both ends and come back and finish the middle.” But, according to Ledbetter, that puts the center of the project under the new rules the legislature enacted for prioritizing projects, and it has not gone through that evaluation. NC Eminent Domain says in their release that the NCDOT’s $154 million project to widen US-221 between Deep Gap and Jefferson will result in the displacement of approximately 70 homes, 33 businesses, and two religious facilities, according to the NCDOT’s environmental assessment, at least 150 property owners. Stan Abrams said they’re looking, yes, to pick up clients, but mainly to provide information to property owners effected by the construction, “If at some point you can’t come to an agreement with the DOT, you have the right to have a jury trial in that county and have a jury determine what you recover for the taking of your property.” The meeting is Thursday night, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Hotel of West Jefferson 203 Hampton Pl Ct, West Jefferson.