Stuart Referendum: Long leases of
public land on water need voters' OK

STUART City commissioners have lost much of the power they had to sell or lease city waterfront land.

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly agreed to amend the city charter, requiring commissioners to seek voters' approval before selling or leasing any city waterfront land for 10 years or more.

"This is just a confirmation that the people do not like the idea of the city commission selling our public waterfront property without asking the people's permission," said Mac Stuckey, the  attorney who drafted the petition to have the amendment put on the ballot.

The charter amendment applies only to a handful of properties: city hall, which fronts the St. Lucie River, and a few city parks.

The former Rayz restaurant site near the Roosevelt Bridge and 1.5 acres on the north side of the river, both owned by the city and slated to become boat storage and marinas, aren't affected because the leases already have been finalized, City Attorney Paul Nicoletti said.

Stuckey said city commissioners can avoid the hassle of a referendum by simply writing five-year leases, something he said is common practice in downtown Stuart. If commissioners insist on a longer lease and the proposed project is a good idea, they won't have trouble selling it to the voters, he said.

Stuckey started collecting signatures for a vote to amend the charter early this year, shortly after the commission agreed to hear a pitch by Palm Beach Gardens builder Dan Catalfumo to tear down city hall and a restaurant next door to build a condo-hotel on city land he would lease for 99 years.

Commissioners agreed to consider the plan, and others, until more than 150 people filled city hall in January to blast the idea.