2/22/2005

Eminent Domain Stirs Wal-Mart Controversy in Ogden: KSL TV5 (Salt Lake City UT), 2/21/05

By John Daley

A new Wal-Mart store is once again stirring controversy, this time in Ogden. The fight's over a tool governments use called "eminent domain."

That means property owners can be forced to sell.

The city of Ogden sees this new Wal-Mart as a key to downtown revitalization, bringing in 7,000 shoppers a day. But some property owners refused to sell, and are now fighting the city's attempt to use "eminent domain" to acquire the land.

The property is within a few blocks of Ogden's struggling downtown 21-acres now occupied by 34 homes and eight businesses. Most property owners agreed to sell to the city's redevelopment agency.

But when the city moved to use eminent domain to acquire the others, that sparked a revolt from the likes of Dorothy Littrell, who bought land in the neighborhood just so she could sue the city on constitutional grounds.

Dorothy Littrell/ Property Owner: "I am not going to sit by and let it happen without screaming all the way down."

Milton Rodriguez/ Property Owner: "We've spoken to them and they don't want to listen to the people around here. It's all about the money."

Cris Rodriguez/ Property Owner: "I think the city leaders are looking down here and they're not seeing people or businesses. They're seeing dollar signs."

But Ogden's mayor, Matthew Godfrey, says eminent domain was used only as a last resort, when a few property owners refused to sell.

He says: "We don't like to do this. We feel bad about the people who don't want to sell, but I think it's in the greater good that we redevelop this area."

The city and some property owners simply can't agree on what's a fair price. Protesters call it a case of Robin Hood in reverse — stealing from the poor and giving it to the rich.

Bill Glasmann/ Wal-Mart Opponent: "We've got a Wal-Mart what, maybe 15 blocks to the north of us, and 30 blocks to the south of us. And now they want to put a big box down here at the expense of these people."

Tom Owens/ Wal-Mart Opponent: "It's wrong. It's fundamentally wrong to kick people out of their homes and give them less than it's worth, because they got the power to do it through eminent domain, and then give that to the biggest company in the world."

I spoke with another resident of the neighborhood who says he's happy to sell his land and thinks he's getting a higher price than he could have without Wal-Mart coming.

If the city prevails in court, construction could begin later this year.


KSL TV5: http://tv.ksl.com