Provo city council puts off eminent domain decision until Jan. 3

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Provo residents prepare to listen and share their opinions during a city council meeting. Extra chairs had to be brought in the room to accommodate all in attendance. (Provo City)

An hour into the Provo city council meeting on Dec. 6, the council moved to item number 9: a vote on a resolution to authorize eminent domain, the right to seize private property for the public good.

David Graves, city engineer, presented first to the council. Nearly all of the chairs were occupied.

Graves detailed the history of the project. The idea formed in July 2007. Since then, Graves said, it has been a long process of meeting with communities to receive input and scrutinizing possible routes for the Lakeview Parkway, formerly known as the Northwest Connector.

Of six different routes, five were rejected because of impact to community or the surrounding environment, according to Graves.

“This is something we realize affects people and their lives,” Graves said.

One way the city tries to ease impact on land owners is by monetary compensation. Council member Dave Knecht asked if land owners are also compensated for business operations on the land in question. Graves responded in the negative. Landowners are only compensated for the land itself.

Graves insisted the use of eminent domain would be a last resort. The city will attempt negotiations first. But, he warned, starting the project anew in order to find a new alternative route could result in a loss of funding for the project.

“We realize the importance of these kinds of projects moving forward and that’s why we’re here tonight,” Graves said.

After Graves spoke, the council heard from landowners who would be affected. First to speak was DeAnna McCoard, mother of the McCoard family and part owner of the McCoard family farm and Sunshine Greenhouses.

McCoard shared the history of the Sunshine Greenhouses. She moved to Provo after going through a divorce. She bought five and a half acres of land and decided to use the botany degree she had received from BYU to support her family.

“It’s not been an easy business,” McCoard said. “It’s been hard.”

McCoard built a successful business for herself and trained her children to take over. Her sons Paul and Harry now run and operate different aspects of the business.

DeAnna McCoard lives on the edge of her property. The Lakeview Parkway, according to McCoard, would be in her front yard.

“Dave Graves told me he would never take my house,” McCoard said. “I just can’t believe you would do this to me.”

She finished her statement by pleading with the council to not build the road, which she believes is unnecessary.

McCoard’s son Paul spoke next. He first addressed the fact there has been no offer of compensation for loss of revenue. The Lakeview Parkway would cut right through the land where the McCoards hold their fall festival, rendering the McCoards unable to hold the fall festival ever again.

“I hate to see these very productive fields turned into weed patches,” Paul McCoard said, “This road does drastically affect our business.”

Paul McCoard also said he thinks the road is unnecessary, and pointed out that the McCoard family farm brings a lot of money into the economy.

Harry McCoard, the oldest of the McCoard siblings, spoke after his brother Paul.

“We’ve been against this road from the very beginning,” Harry McCoard said.

Harry McCoard said Graves told him, “We will never use eminent domain to take your property.” McCoard also quoted Graves as saying the Lakeview Parkway project would not be built for many years.

“I think it’s just really poor planning,” Harry McCoard said.

Fellow landowner Genette Lamb spoke next. She lives across the street from the McCoard’s greenhouse.

Unlike the McCoards, the Lambs have owned and lived on their farm land for more than a century — since 1880.

Lamb warned the council that if they build the road, they will destroy homes and livelihoods. She also talked about the stress the Lakeview Parkway and impending eminent domain has put on her aging parents.

“You have caused my mother more emotional and mental stress than you can imagine,” Lamb said. “If you vote for eminent domain, that’s the last straw. You’ve ruined her life.”

After property owners, the council opened up the hearing to the public. Over 30 people stood and spoke against the use of eminent domain and of building the road in general.

The meeting went past 10 p.m., but impassioned community members continued to stand in support of landowners and in solidarity against the building of the road. Many continued to insist that it is unnecessary because there is not a problem with traffic. Others said the road would be harmful for farmers and others in the community.

The council deliberated over the question and concluded they need more information on the legality of the situation, the archaeological implications and why alternate routes were discarded.

The council voted to continue the motion and meet again to discuss it on Jan. 3. Four voted for the continuation and three against.

“I’m not comfortable with the impact,” Knecht said.

Harry McCoard said the city’s presentation for the road did not impress him. He felt the city was not prepared.

He also felt encouraged by the council’s decision to take more time to study the matter.

“I’m somewhat doubtful in the end that the decision will be in our favor, but I’m hopeful,” Harry McCoard said.

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