By Kristen Moulton
Residents of a tucked-away downtown neighborhood and other Ogden residents angry at City Hall rallied Monday to protest a plan to bulldoze homes and businesses for a new Wal-Mart superstore.
At the peak of the rally, more than 40 carried signs showing a slash mark through the words "eminent domain abuse" and calling for reform of redevelopment laws. Passers-by honked and flashed protesters thumbs-up signs.
"Something is wrong with this picture," said protester Bill Glassman, an Ogden real estate broker and investor. "Do not take homes and viable businesses away and give [the land] to a big company!"
The Ogden Wal-Mart project has become a symbol for those who believe cities are taking their right to use eminent domain too far when it is used for economic development projects.
Monday's rally was timed to call attention to a Connecticut case before the U.S. Supreme Court today, Kelo vs. New London.
In that case, a city condemned a waterfront neighborhood so a hotel, office building and upscale homes could be built.
In Ogden, Mayor Matthew Godfrey and the City Council want to replace an older, blighted neighborhood with a Wal-Mart, which they contend will bring jobs and sales-tax revenue to the city.
The city is assembling the land, 21 acres north of Union Station and the new transit center on Wall Avenue, for the giant retailer. There are 34 homes and eight businesses in the project area.
Past court cases have upheld cities' right to use eminent domain for economic development when a neighborhood is blighted. In the Connecticut case, the neighborhood was healthy.
Neighborhood residents Christina and Milton Rodriguez were among those carrying signs Monday. They expect to land in court soon because they refused the city's offer for their home and adjacent properties where Christina has lived all her life.
Milton has a fencing business next door, and Christina is able to walk to work at the IRS downtown. Neither wants to move.
Senorina Fernandez, who was raised in the neighborhood and now lives there with her own family, says she, too, expects the city to condemn her home. She has refused offers so far.
"They tell us we'll have better homes, better neighborhoods. They don't know what it's about down here," said Fernandez, toting a sign protesting abuse of eminent domain. "We're here because we want to be. We just want them to go away."
The rally also drew a number of other area residents active in the campaign to reform Utah redevelopment laws.
Steve Huntsman, a North Ogden City Council member who opposed his own council's decision to build a new swimming pool through a redevelopment project, was at Monday's rally.
Huntsman was recently criticized by Ogden leaders for sending a letter to Wal-Mart threatening to expose, via his family's community newspaper, the company's participation in what he considers eminent domain abuse.
"It's wrong and the sad part is it's legal in our state right now," Huntsman said.
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