People often told Robert C. Nelson he was wasting his time trying to fight city hall.
But, after an expensive five-year legal battle, he finally has won.The owner of The Magazine Shop, 267 S. Main, Nelson will be able to stay in business where he is. Nelson is the last holdout on Block 57 - the lone stumbling block in Salt Lake City's efforts to renovate what it considers to be a blighted area.
The Utah Court of Appeals decision Friday could make that renovation more costly and time-consuming than the Salt Lake City Redevlopment Agency ever expected.
The court upheld Judge Raymond S. Uno's 1986 decision that the RDA had violated the rights of Block 57 property owners by condemning the property without giving the owners "constitutionally adequate" notice.
The RDA's condemnation of the property left owners without a prospective buyer except the RDA, said Robert S. Campbell Jr., Nelson's attorney. So the RDA's claim that the block was blighted "became a self-fulfilling prophecy because the owners couldn't improve the property or sell it to anyone but the RDA."
Block 57 has been frozen in litigation since property owners sued the RDA in 1985. Since then, the RDA bought out all owners but Nelson. So Friday's victory was his to savor alone.
"Everyone said there was no way we could fight the city and come out on top," Nelson said. "But we were set on going through with this."
The decision means the RDA can't condemn Nelson's property for redevelopment.
Mike Zuhl, chief of staff to Mayor Palmer DePaulis, said he had yet to see the court decision. However, he said the redevelopment agency's plans to put a plaza on the block will not necessarily be put on hold.
"By no means is it doomed," he said. "The parcel still could be bought, or we could build around it."
But Campbell thinks the appeals court's ruling may have dealt a death blow to the RDA's plans for developing Block 57.
"The RDA has to get its bonding in order; undertake new surveys and new analyses. Whether the RDA is prepared to do that after all of the difficulties it's had with that block is highly questionable," he said.
Block 57 is bordered by 200 and 300 South and State and Main streets.
Campbell called the ruling a "watershed case in renewal and condemnation law. The court wrote out in textbook fashion the process an RDA in Utah must go through to acquire citizens' property," Campbell said.
RDA's attorney on the case, Harold Hintze, could not be reached for comment. RDA attorney William Oswald did not return Deseret News phone calls.
The 32-page ruling contained three judge's opinion on a related issue: whether or not the RDA can condemn whole areas rather than condemn individual pieces of property one at a time.
On that ruling, the justices reversed Uno's decision and handed property owners a defeat. The court ruled that property that might be economically healthy may still have to be surrendered to the RDA if it happens to be within a larger area that the RDA has declared to be blighted.
"We find that the RDA may condemn even non-blighted individual properties within a project area, so long as the project area as a whole has a negative impact on the public interest," judges Gregory K. Orme and Regnal W. Garff wrote.
Judge Norman H. Jackson wrote a dissenting opinion.
Campbell asserted that vibrant downtown businesses could be blighted under the precedent set by the appeals court ruling. "That means that the Tracy Collins Building, the Deseret Building, the ZCMI Center, the Walker Building, Tribune Building and Kearns Building could all be blighted buildings," he said. "So you see the extraordinary power this ruling gives the RDA if it is allowed to stand."
Nelson doesn't believe even the RDA's plans for a plaza on Block 57 are wise. The city plans to build an urban park similar to the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
"To take a block like this and give up all that space to maintain a plaza in our weather - I don't think it can be justified," he said. "How many actual months out of the year are we talking about the plaza being actively used? We're not in San Diego."
Other store owners originally joined Nelson in his suit against the Redevelopment Agency but they dropped out one by one as business began to falter along 300 South between Main and State.
One of the stores that dropped out of the fight was Broadway Music. Owner Darol Krantz sold his store to the Redevelopment Agency in 1989 and moved to 3130 S. State, where he says business is better than ever. He said he believes the city and the redevelopment agency are ruining downtown.
"They are harassing the shoppers out of downtown Salt Lake with $7 parking tickets," he said. "Customers we talk to don't like to go downtown."