Eminent domain power expanded: Daily Herald, Provo UT, 3/1/07

By Jeff DeMoss

With time running out in the 2007 general session, the Utah Legislature restored and expanded the power of cities and counties to condemn, buy and clear private property for economic revitalization purposes.

The city of Ogden, which is trying to acquire additional land for the Ogden River Project, was among those eagerly awaiting the passage of House Bill 365.

The bill gained unanimous approval from the Senate on a 26-0 vote Wednesday after passing the House on a 64-3 vote last week.

Unlike a previous law that was repealed in 2005, where a single property owner could hold up an entire project, HB 365 requires an 80 percent majority of residential owners or 75 percent of commercial owners in a project area to give approval in petition form before redevelopment authorities can exercise eminent domain.

A project could also be cleared with approvals representing the equivalent of 70 percent of total residential property value or 60 percent of commercial value in the area.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, replaced the original bill with one that increased the requirements for majority owner approval.

"What ends up happening a lot of times is the minority ends up trumping the majority," Jenkins said. "You end up in a situation where one person can make it so the rest can't get rid of their property. This sets a very, very high standard for the majority."

Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, said citizens can defer the money they receive from property sold under eminent domain on their tax returns.

"The tax benefit alone is worth it," Bell said.

Two years ago, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 184, which eliminated the ability of local governments to use eminent domain to acquire property in blighted areas for redevelopment.

The bill effectively killed a plan for the construction of a 206,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wall Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets in Ogden.

In addition to the property owner petition process, House Bill 365 contains other safeguards against potential eminent domain abuse. For example, a two-thirds vote from an RDA board would be required before property could be condemned. Previously, only a simple majority vote was needed.

"We've tried to take an incremental step and see if there's a way to have a balance," said Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo. "Should this be abused, I'm sure we'll be back here tightening it up."

HB 365, Eminent Domain Authority of Community Development and Renewal Agencies, Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George. This bill would allow community development and renewal agencies to acquire property by eminent domain in an urban renewal project area under certain circumstances.

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