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BLIGHT ISSUE SURFACES ON 2 PROJECTS

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What most people think of as blight and how state law defines it for redevelopment purposes may be two different things, residents said at a public hearing this week.

The City Council, which also acts as Sandy's Redevelopment Agency, held a hearing Tuesday on a plan to create a redevelopment project area for an auto mall between 10600 and 11000 South, I-15 and State Street. After the hearing, the council postponed action for one week to give property owners time to get their remaining questions answered.The proposed project area consists mainly of vacant or marginally used land. To create a redevelopment area, the city must find that blight exists, so architect Richard Chong was hired to do a blight survey. He found blight throughout the area.

Among the blight elements Chong identified are five dilapidated permanent structures, 13 deteriorated ones and two deficient ones, poor access to city streets, poor lot configuration, conflicting land uses, high groundwater, low soil permeability, weeds along an irrigation canal, inadequate roads and sewer lines.

Property owner Earon Fairbourn questioned the criteria Chong used to determine blight. "You could blindfold him and put him anywhere in the valley and he could come up with these elements." Fairbourn denied that his own property, at the intersection of 11000 South and State Street, is blighted, even by the legal definition.

But he said he understands the city's real goal in creating a project area. "Of course, it's to give powers to a municipality which they don't otherwise have where they're having difficulty putting properties together." The power of eminent domain can be used to condemn property for a redevelopment project.

By creating a redevelopment area, the city will gain several legal powers, including the right to divert property taxes collected from the area and rechannel them back into building roads, water lines and other infrastructure to support the auto mall. The theory is that this government subsidy of business development will pay off by stimulating new tax base development.

Councilman Ron Gee said the city simply wants a way to finance infrastructure improvements to make the area economically viable. "The city can't afford it, and you guys can't afford it," but redevelopment provides a way, he said.

He stressed, though, that the city won't force any property owner into the project who doesn't want in and probably won't condemn property against the owner's wishes.

Attorney Bill Oswald, a redevelopment specialist retained by the city, said many sophisticated landowners in project areas insist on receiving letters threatening condemnation before they'll sell their property, because this gives them substantial tax advantages.

Quentin Wells, president of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce, supported the auto mall but urged officials to use condemnation powers carefully.

Sandy Community Development Director Mike Coulam said, "We feel this is land that's ready and open and ripe for new development" once the redevelopment project area is created.

Fairbourn said he's not necessarily opposing the project - he'd just like more time to learn about it. Property owner Don Cook voiced his support.

Sandy resident Harold Bearden, who doesn't live in the affected area but who owns land in Riverton, said the project would contribute to an increase in property values in the south valley. "But I don't want to see it go in because I hate that type of thing - I love freedom." He said the subsidy to auto dealers in the mall would be unfair to dealers elsewhere in the city. And he asked why this project needs a subsidy when Fashion Place Mall was built without redevelopment help.

"Socialism, communism, zoning, redevelopment are four peas in a pod - all they are is cold-blooded murder. Old Hitler was a neighborhood purifier," he said.