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Riviera to face new eminent-domain suit

A national legal advocacy group will sue Riviera Beach today, charging the city is violating the state law by still threatening to use eminent domain against home and business owners in order to make way for its $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment.

Bert Gall, senior attorney for the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, said Riviera Beach officials are trying to circumvent Florida's new eminent-domain law. In May, Gov. Jeb Bush signed the law, which denies governments such as Riviera Beach's the power to take private land and give it to private developers for economic purposes.

"These folks are living under the constant threat of eminent domain," Gall said.

Gall will file suit on behalf of homeowner Artis Reaves, business owners Mike and Nora Mahoney and Princess Wells, a home and business owner. The Institute for Justice will hold a 10:30 a.m. news conference today. Wells and Nora Mahoney are expected to attend.

The case involves plaintiffs who either live or own businesses in 400 acres of mostly blighted land, where the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency have a preliminary agreement with master developer Viking Inlet Harbor Properties to build a hotel, marina, aquarium, condos, shops and restaurants.

On May 10, the city and Viking signed an initial deal where Riviera Beach officials agreed to use eminent domain on behalf of the New Jersey yachtmaker turned developer. In an effort to preserve the city's right to use eminent domain, that agreement was inked before Bush signed Florida's new law.

The maneuver prompted two earlier lawsuits. Both cases are slowly winding their way through civil court. The impact of all three cases is uncertain because negotiations between the city and Viking to develop the land have been stalled since July.

The Institute for Justice is no stranger to eminent domain. The legal group argued on behalf of the plaintiff in the landmark Kelo vs. New London, Conn., case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled that governments had the right to take private land for development, but gave states the authority to pass their own laws in light of the Supreme Court decision. Nationwide, about 30 states, including Florida, passed laws eliminating the use of eminent domain for economic purposes, Gall said.