N.C. Railroad makes concessions on rail corridor issues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Staff report
The N.C. Railroad Co. appears to be changing its stance on property along the rail corridor.
N.C. Rep. Fred Steen, a Republican state legislator and former Landis mayor, is urging all property owners along the corridor in Rowan and Cabarrus counties to attend a public information session Thursday in Kannapolis.
The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kannapolis Train Station on South Main Street.
Top N.C. Railroad Co. officials will attend to answer questions and discuss the company’s proposed policy.
Steen said while some issues remain unresolved, the proposed policy is a major step in the right direction.
Steen serves on the House Select Committee dealing with the rail issues.
“We’re trying to do what is right for the property owners,” Steen said. “We’re trying to get the word out (about the hearing). We want the railroad people to hear the concerns of the property owners. This is the best way.”
The company’s new policy would drop fees for most businesses outside a 30-foot corridor measured from the center of the track.
Steen said one of the issues still unresolved is whether business owners who have been paying rent will have to continue.
He also urged municipal officials to attend the hearing.
Major features of the proposed policy include:
– Eliminating fees for homeowners and most businesses with existing title interest to land within the corridor.
– For the first time, the company will offer an agreement to landowners in the corridor that would guarantee they’ll be paid the tax value of any buildings or improvements in the rail corridor built prior to Jan. 1, 2009, if the railroad needs to remove the buildings for rail improvements.
– Businesses within 30 feet of the tracks will continue to pay an annual fee, unless they have an existing title and pay property taxes on the land.
The policy prohibits new construction within 30 feet of the rail line effective Jan. 1, 2009.
A committee of the General Assembly recently recommended legislation that, if passed, will give the public much easier access to maps delineating all rail corridors and other railroads’ property or easement boundaries.
Steen said many of the problems have arisen because easements were never recorded and deals were struck with handshake agreements.
“We got the mess we got now,” Steen said. He noted local attorneys say every property transaction along the rail corridor is different. In some cases, the rail easement is recorded, in many others, there is no recorded easement. And in some cases, deeds show an individual property owner’s boundary extends all the way across the track.
The company owns and manages the 317-mile corridor from Morehead City to Charlotte.