2/18/2007

Eminent domain may be restored: Salt Lake City UT Tribune, 2/16/07

By Kristen Moulton

[Utah] HB365 Would reinstate a city's power of eminent domain - with certain protections for property owners.

Next step: Goes to House floor for consideration.

Utah cities would regain their right to condemn private property in order to remove urban blight under legislation given the nod by a House committee on Thursday.

The House Political Subdivisions Committee voted unanimously to approve HB365, proposed by Rep. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, who described it as a measure to reconcile, with private-property rights, cities' responsibility to remove blight.

"This is a very delicate and important balancing act we're trying to perform," said Urquhart.

Two years ago, the Legislature stopped cities from using eminent domain for redevelopment projects.

At the time, Ogden's effort to replace homes and businesses in a blighted downtown neighborhood with a Wal-Mart was cited as an abuse by legislators who subsequently put a moratorium on such use of eminent domain.

Under an amendment to HB365 approved by the committee, Ogden would be able to pick up where it left off in trying to acquire homes and businesses in that area north of Union Station - as well as in the Ogden River Project area.

Mark Johnson, Ogden's management-services director, praised the measure.

"This really helps some of the key projects in the city, such as the river project, which is part of the downtown rebirth."

The second phase of the Ogden River Project - a plan to transform 60 acres north of the LDS Temple downtown with new homes, shops and restaurants - has been stymied by the moratorium, he said.

Lincoln Shurtz, of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said the measure has several safeguards to ensure property rights are protected.

For one thing, property owners would have to petition the city or town to condemn their property, and that would require support of 75 percent of the owners with 50 percent of the value in the project area.

It would require a two-thirds vote of a city redevelopment agency board to condemn property. Previously, a simple majority was sufficient.

Also, a city would have to pay not only fair-market value, but replace the property if the fair-market value is not enough for a homeowner or business to start fresh.

However, Steven Huntsman, a North Ogden City Council member who opposes eminent domain for curing blight, criticized the bill later Thursday.

"The minute they bring eminent domain into it, it allows the government to sell your property to the highest bidder."


Salt Lake City UT Tribune: http://www.sltrib.com