Residents worry blight designation will cost them their homes; Ogden city says fears unfounded

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WEBER COUNTY, Utah -- Residents in a century-old Ogden neighborhood are worried the city's blight designation will lead to eminent domain and the destruction of their homes.

The national law firm Institute for Justice is helping residents, but Ogden City officials say they believe the firm is misleading residents.

With its sturdy rock, colorful flowers and curb appeal, it's hard to believe this home could have a date with the wrecking ball. But the structure is part of the Oak Den area, which was designated as blighted.

Owner Dianne Egbert thinks it's a slight.

"Absolutely, it's an insulting term,” she said. “This is part of Ogden’s history. People in the neighborhood call it, 'The Gingerbread House,' and we have people stop by probably two or three times a week to tell us how happy they are that we have restored it."

Egbert and her neighbors have formed the Ogden Alliance Against Eminent Domain Abuse. They did so with the help of the Institute for Justice.

"No one should lose their home just because the government thinks that they can put something else in their neighborhood, but that's what redevelopment laws across the country do, including here in Utah,” said Paul Avelar, a senior attorney for the Institute of Justice.

At a Thursday news conference, some Oak Den residents spoke their minds.

"It was built in 1909, and I fell in live with it, and I’m still in love with it,” homeowner Lisa Beck said. “I don't believe my house or this neighborhood should be blighted with eminent domain."

Eric Perkins, another homeowner, also spoke.

“We really enjoy this house, we bought this as a forever home, not to be kicked out,” he said.

Luisa Niang said they have lived there for decades and would hate to have to move.

“We have been residents here since 1973,” Niang said. “We worked so hard, and we don't like our property to be declared eminent domain."

There are also fears the blight designation will spawn blight. Residents said they don't want to spend money for repairs if they stand to lose their home down the road.

The owner of “The Gingerbread House” thinks market forces should dictate Oak Den's future.

“I’m a realtor, things are selling, this is the only place in Utah, besides Tooele, that you can get a house for $79,000 still,” she said.

Tom Christopulos, Ogden’s director of community and economic development, told FOX 13 News the city has never said they intend to take people’s homes through eminent domain.

He said of the 415 properties in the development, six to 10 buildings could be razed, and those particular structures aren’t homes.

As for the “Gingerbread House”, Christopulos says he wouldn't tear it down, not in a million years.