Riviera tries to
outwit law by signing pact
By William Cooper JR.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006
RIVIERA BEACH; The city council; in an effort to legally
outmaneuver the Florida Legislature; unanimously
approved an agreement with its master developer, Viking Inlet
Harbor Properties, that protects its right to build a $2.4
billion waterfront redevelopment.
The agreement sets up a legal battle that pits the city against
state lawmakers. Last week, legislators passed a bill that
strips cities like Riviera Beach from using its eminent domain
powers to take private land and give it to developers like
"We know our enemy is now the legislature," Mayor Michael Brown
said Wednesday night.
Chairwoman Ann Iles called for the Community Redevelopment
Agency, the council and the mayor to
work together to develop 400-acre International Harbor Village,
which will consist of a hotel, condos,
retail shops, restaurants, a maritime charter school and an
aquarium. Iles, however, did not have the
total support of residents who feared the city needed more time
to review the agreement with Viking.
"There's no staff backup for any of this," said Gerald Ward, who
challenged city officials to give
residents and staff time for more input.
Public comment on the agreement got so heated that Iles had
resident Fane Lozman escorted by
police from the lectern. Iles felt Lozman had exceeded his two
minutes of comment on the plan.
Throughout the legislative session, which ended Friday, the city
and Viking lobbied lawmakers for an
amendment giving the city until 2010 to operate under the
current eminent domain law. But that
amendment was killed amid political infighting over school
With Viking threatening to abandon the project, city officials
scrambled to come up with a quick
solution. After several closed-door meetings with Viking during
the past week, the strategy to legally
attack the legislation emerged.
City officials contend that the legislature's actions violate
their constitutional right under the "contracts
clause." Under the U.S. Constitution, no government can pass a
law that interferes with an existing
contract between two parities.
The city had a big problem, however. After seven months of
negotiations, it never reached an
agreement with Viking.
That's why on Wednesday city officials held their regularly
scheduled Community Redevelopment
Agency meeting, and right after began a special city council
meeting to expedite reaching a contract.
While the council also sits as the redevelopment agency board,
any agreement dealing with city
property requires council approval.
Rushing the contract through is also critical to establishing
the city's argument that the legislature's
actions interfere with its contract with Viking.
By signing a contract Wednesday night, the city is trying to
legally circumvent Gov. Jeb Bush and the
legislature. Because Bush hasn't signed the new eminent domain
legislation, the city can argue that it is bound by the current
which gives it authority to take private property and give it to
developers for economic purposes.
Attorney Bruce Rogow, a constitutional law expert with more than
40 years of experience, said Riviera Beach has a good case to
challenge the state law on constitutional grounds. Rogow, who
has argued 11 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the key
to the city's argument is establishing it had a contract with
Viking before the new eminent domain law's taking effect.
"If it's a lawful contract, you've got the right to expect that
the government won't interfere with it," said Rogow, whose
clients have included O.J. Simpson, attorney F. Lee Bailey,
Miami rap group 2 Live Crew and former Palm Beach County
Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore.
"It's not a law until the governor signs it," Rogow said.