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Supreme Court Decision Shouldn't Affect Utah Case

Supreme Court Decision Shouldn't Affect Utah Case



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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that local governments may use eminent domain to seize homes and businesses for private development is not expected to have an immediate impact on Ogden's stalled Wal-Mart and riverfront projects.

Although Thursday's 5-4 ruling gives cities wide power to buy and destroy homes to make way for shopping malls and hotel complexes, it also permits states to pass laws restricting such condemnations.

A bill enacted by the Utah Legislature amid the Ogden development battle this year prohibits cities from using eminent domain for economic development.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, also placed a one-year moratorium on taking property through eminent domain by redevelopment agencies.

"What the Supreme Court said was, 'Yes, cities could do it, but it's up to the states to set the policy,"' Bramble said. "If the legislature allows it, any city can do it, but just because (legislators) can, doesn't mean they should."

The Supreme Court ruling doesn't allow Ogden's RDA to employ eminent domain for the two projects because state law specifically prohibits redevelopment agencies from using condemnation, said Bob Rees, associate general counsel for the Utah Legislature.

As a result, Ogden is prohibited from using eminent domain for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter and the riverfront project, both aimed at helping revitalize downtown.

Mayor Matthew Godfrey said he is reviewing the Supreme Court ruling, but added that it provides for a "much broader use of eminent domain."

While the New London, Conn., case that was before the high court dealt with eminent domain for purely economic development purposes, efforts by Ogden's RDA to condemn private property for the Wal-Mart and riverfront projects centered on removing blight as a component of downtown revitalization, Godfrey said.

Although the Supreme Court decision doesn't allow the two projects to move forward, it may open the door for local officials and lawmakers to discuss the value of easing restrictions on eminent domain, said Ogden City Councilman Kent Jorgenson.

"It (the Supreme Court ruling) is a step in the right direction," he said. "This at least tells us they are putting the ball back in our court. Now it's our responsibility to educate the Legislature."

Amy Butters, an Ogden attorney who represents about a half-dozen property owners within the proposed Wal-Mart project area, fears the Legislature may use the decision as justification next year to amend state law to once again allow RDAs to employ eminent domain.

"My clients won't be able to sleep at night because it (condemnation of their property) could happen at any time," she said.

Dave Spatafore, of Capstone Strategies, represents the Utah Redevelopment Association, which was at least encouraged by the ruling.

He said the decision "is not earth-shattering in that it's going to change everything, but it validates the use by a local government of using eminent domain or threatening eminent domain in order to improve the community."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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