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Is UTA bullying small-business neighbor?
Condemnation » UTA borrows state powers seeking to seize property for new garage.

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Hamblin said in 2012 as UTA was doing an environmental study for its new facility, he had a long conversation with a UTA official who told him the agency would cover all costs of putting him in a comparable building. "It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling," until the man later claimed he could not remember having such a conversation.

Hamblin said a UTA appraisal determined the building and land is worth $260,000, figuring that much of his machinery could be moved. He says that’s wrong, that much of the equipment is built-in and specific to that site — such as sawdust removers and ventilation.

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Real-estate agents have found possible replacement buildings that cost $1 million, Hamblin said, adding that contractors figure work needed to set up his business in those spaces would cost $830,000, with $138,000 more needed to upgrade electrical systems. Sprinklers and other necessities would put the total in the neighborhood of $2 million.

"UTA won’t acknowledge any of that," Hamblin says, adding the agency chose to sue rather than negotiate.

UTA’s written statement says it never told Hamblin he must leave within 30 days. It says its appraisal is fair, and has been reviewed by a second independent appraiser.

"Through a separate process UTA will make money available for the relocation and reestablishment of Hamblin’s business. Together, the just compensation paid for the property and relocation costs should allow them to operate their business in a new location," the UTA statement says.

But Hamblin said UTA told him relocation reimbursement would be capped at $50,000.

Bully? » Hamblin says the UTA lawsuit has prevented him from using his property to secure business loans and hindered him from subleasing part of his factory to another furniture maker, because he doesn’t know how long he may be there. The dispute is also running up legal costs. Hamblin complains of harassment — from UTA trying to get him to quickly sign away an easement he has on some UTA property to having agency employees create a smoking area near his business.

UTA called once to say it was building a fence along their property. He said he didn’t oppose it as long as it had a gate "big enough to make sure I could get a semi in and out and I get a key to it. I never have."

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Hamblin says, "I feel like a wounded dog out there limping around in the field, and every morning I show up here and they [UTA] fire another BB, and say, ‘That’s No. 1001, let’s see if he’s still going in the morning.’ " But Hamblin says he’s not about to give up the fight.

"I’m in it with everything I’ve got."

UTA maintains it has been fair, aboveboard and has offered the current fair-market value.

A 3rd District judge will decide who’s right.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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