Orem to acquire land by eminent domain: Provo UT Daily Herald, 9/12/06

By Heidi Toth

Orem [UT] city officials voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with an eminent domain action against a property owner.

The property in question, at 1835 S. Sandhill Road, is about 8,210 square feet of land that is now occupied by Project Ascent, a youth rehabilitation home. The city needs the land to go forward with widening Sandhill Road through that area.

"This is not for commercial properties or anything else," Mayor Jerry Washburn said. "This is for the public welfare in terms of roads and streets and public improvements."

Several officials emphasized that they do not like eminent domain, which authorizes a municipality to take private property for public use and pay the owner fair market value for the land. But they also agreed with Washburn that in this instance, public good trumped private good.

Assistant City Attorney Steve Earl said the city originally made an offer to the owner, KSP Investments, for $253,000. The owner made a counteroffer for more than $380,000 and asked to be allowed to replace the house that's on the property with the same footprint but including a basement, which increases the structure's total square footage, according to the staff report. The current use is already non-conforming to the zone on this property.

"What we've basically informed them, because it's being torn down against their will, is that they can rebuild at the same square footage in the same area," Earl said.

The city decided to move forward with eminent domain, Earl told the council, because in talking with the property owners the city staff did not believe a compromise was possible. The eminent domain action will not end negotiations, he added; should a solution be reached outside of the courtroom on which both parties can agree, it's done. This just moves the process forward, so construction on the road can begin.

City Council members questioned what kind of timeline the city is looking at with the eminent domain action and if the city incurred additional costs because of the delay; Earl said no. Most likely construction wouldn't have been ready to begin as originally scheduled anyway, even without this property snafu, and he had no way to guess how construction costs would differ six months from now. As for the timeline, that's anybody's guess.

"I don't know that there is a typical timeline," he said, citing the best-case scenario of just a couple of months and the lengthier example of Provo city trying to get land to connect 4800 North to Canyon Road. "It just depends on what you run into, and you never really know for sure."

The money issue also raised questions of what the city might be paying; Councilman Mark Seastrand said he wanted to make sure the city wasn't taken advantage of and also that the city wasn't taking advantage of the property owner.

"What's the process so we have that reassurance?" he asked.

The appraisal on this property was done in January; Earl said real estate prices have been climbing since then, and the values on similar pieces of property have climbed as well. They are willing to pay a comparable price, he said, and the city typically adds consideration of expenses and inconvenience as well.

"We feel that the city actually does really go out of the way to make it fair," he said.

Provo UT Daily Herald: http://www.heraldextra.com