UTA settles long-running feud with small-business neighbor

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Kerry Hamblin, owner of Hamblin Custom Furniture Frames, works in his shop next to UTA headquarters with his son Ryan, left, in June 2014.

For years, Kerry Hamblin complained loudly that the Utah Transit Authority was bullying him to sell — at pennies on the dollar — his small furniture factory behind the agency’s Salt Lake City headquarters on the city’s west side.

After five years of fighting in and out of court, they finally settled their disputes this week. But Hamblin in still fuming and griping.

“After 43 years in that location, for them to come in and clean me out like they did — it’s criminal,” Hamblin said. “I would never consider opening a business in Utah again.”

Hamblin owned a factory that made frames for sofas and other furniture in a metal building behind UTA headquarters at 669 W. 200 South. The agency is expanding where that business stood, building a $60 million central garage and fueling station for buses powered by compressed natural gas.

Much of Hamblin’s complaints about being forced out came because state law specifically says that UTA “may not acquire property by eminent domain.” However, another part of the code allows other governments to condemn land on UTA’s behalf “for the establishment of a public transit district.”

So as a favor to UTA, the Utah Department of Transportation sued to condemn Hamblin’s property — and he complained the agency offered him far too little.

For example, The Salt Lake Tribune reported five years ago how Hamblin contended it would cost $2 million to replace his building and move. But UTA and UDOT offered about $260,000 — a tenfold difference.

As the dispute progressed, he once showed up at a UTA Board meeting the day after a legislative audit had criticized the agency, in part, for giving a developer a $10 million advance for a garage that was never built, and the agency at the time had not been reimbursed.

"You come and make a nickel-and-dime offer to me, and then you turn around give $10 million for nothing," he said. "You've ruined my 41-year-old business."

In the end, Hamblin says UTA paid about $490,000 in 2016 for the property — and promised the agency would relocate his business. But Hamblin and UTA then continued a long fight about where to move him and what kind of facility was needed, as he claimed the agency was attempting to put him into an inadequate building without utilities needed to handle his equipment.

After Hamblin’s attorney again filed notice that they intended to sue UTA over the relocation, the parties agreed to a third-party mediation.

This week, the UTA Board approved a final settlement to pay Hamblin $452,260 to end the long dispute.

“It was a pretty good evaluation,” of reasonable costs, said David Wilkins, an attorney for UTA. The agency has said for years that it has acted in good faith, that it treated Hamblin fairly and disputes his assertion about bullying.

But Hamblin said poor health, aging and the long fight over the property have put him out of business.

“We didn’t get anywhere near enough to rebuild. They left me in a heck of mess,” Hamblin said this week. “That is the most corrupt organization I’ve ever seen.”