Utah Cities Want To Tweak Eminent Domain Law: New West (Missoula MT), 7/31/06

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that said government could use eminent domain powers to clear the way for private development created a landslide of legislation in states across the nation, including the West, to restrict local government’s use of eminent domain for private development.

In response to the high court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, which also said states could enact legislation to establish limits on eminent domain use, the Utah Legislature passed a law in 2005 that restricted government's use of eminent domain to standard public projects such as roadways, schools and power plants.

But the Salt Lake Tribune reported on Sunday that that law may get another look. The Utah League of Cities and Towns, along with some of the state’s most influential cities, are asking lawmakers to revamp that law to allow governments to use eminent domain for private development, particularly in areas considered blighted by those cities.

At ground zero of this drive to reinstitute some uses of eminent domain is Ogden’s effort to clear the way for a Wal-Mart in an area that city officials consider to be blighted. Residents in the little neighborhood were relieved when Utah lawmakers passed the eminent-domain law currently in place, putting an end to the two-year effort by the retail giant to get the land despite residents’ refusal to sell.

But now those residents are once again worried they’ll lose their land if the Utah League of Cities and Towns are successful in their efforts to get lawmakers to expand the law. The League’s efforts aren’t aimed at Ogden’s situation, but instead is focused statewide on cities’ abilities to redevelop blighted areas.

League officials said they envision a trio of provisions contained in the new law that would protect property owners: requiring the agreement of two-thirds of the private property owners, obtaining approval by a supermajority of the city council, and forcing cities to meet a “necessity” requirement to prove the project is truly needed.

New West: http://www.newwest.net