Developers consider suing Riviera
Beach, state in eminent domain case
By BRIAN SKOLOFF
October 18, 2006, 11:30 AM EDT
RIVIERA BEACH -- The builders of a multibillion-dollar redevelopment
project are considering legal action against the state and city after
being told eminent domain powers will not be used to seize property to
make way for the plan.
Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, a joint venture between Viking Yacht Co.
and resort-development firm Portfolio Group, has already spent more than
$50 million acquiring property in the redevelopment zone, said Mike
Clark, president of Viking Associates, the real estate arm of the
``Now I'm stuck with these properties but can't develop them because I
can't fill in the puzzle pieces,'' Clark said. ``The city spent millions
of dollars putting together its comprehensive plan, and we spent well
over $1 million in engineering, architectural and planning fees. Our
plan now becomes virtually worthless.
``We're certainly considering joining with other developers and perhaps
a group of municipalities about the changing of the rules in
midstream,'' Clark added.
The $2.4 billion project is planned for an area that encompasses about
1,700 homes and businesses in an effort to revamp the marina district
with high-end condominiums, houses, shops, offices and yacht slips in
one of Palm Beach County's poorest cities.
The city was moving ahead with the plans over the objections of some
residents who refused to move out of their homes to make way for the
project in potentially one of the nation's largest eminent domain
Mayor Michael Brown has said the city would use eminent domain to force
home and business owners to sell their properties in an effort to bring
a higher tax base and better paying jobs to the city. However, city
officials contend that many residents would choose to sell, making
forceable eviction unnecessary.
But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that local governments
could use the power of eminent domain to obtain property for such
private development, Florida and 30 other states passed laws restricting
Brown still said the plan would move forward because it was already in
the works when the law was enacted this year. However, Floyd
Johnson, executive director of Riviera Beach's redevelopment agency,
said the city now has no choice but to follow the law. It cannot force
residents out of their homes against their will, Johnson said.
Brown declined to comment.
The City Council was set to consider a resolution at 7:30 p.m. on
Wednesday making it official that it does indeed intend to abide by the
Such a resolution would make moot several lawsuits that have been filed
against the city by residents seeking to stop the project.
Traditionally, governments have used eminent domain to forcibly buy
property so they can build public facilities like schools, parks,
prisons, airports and roads. But after the Supreme Court ruling, cities
across the country began eminent domain procedures for projects much
like Riviera Beach's plan.
Florida voters have a chance to put the state law restrictions into the
constitution if they pass Amendment 8 on the Nov. 7 ballot. It would ban
the use of eminent domain to transfer property, such as homes or
businesses, to private developers unless an exemption is approved by
three-fifths of both houses of the Legislature.
The new law and the resolution being considered would effectively stop a
large portion of the Riviera Beach project. The developers would then
have to negotiate for much higher prices to buy residents' properties if
the project were to move forward.