Peeved Riviera mayor suggests Scripps threat

RIVIERA BEACH After county commissioners dealt a blow to Riviera Beach's redevelopment efforts, Mayor Michael Brown suggested taking the Scripps Research Institute hostage by pulling the city's support from the project.

Late Wednesday night, council members asked Brown to hold off on a formal resolution on the pullout until Councilwoman Liz Wade could meet with county officials to work out out an agreement. Brown's plan called for withdrawing the city's pledge of 27.9 million square feet of biotech land toward Scripps.

Riviera Beach is among five north Palm Beach County cities that signed agreements to meet Gov. Jeb Bush's request that 8 million square feet be dedicated to Scripps spinoffcompanies.

Earlier Wednesday, county commissioners voted 3-2 to enforce traffic restrictions on Singer Island that city officials argued would limit their $2.4 billion redevelopment plans. Singer Island residents, however, said the barrier island was being overdeveloped and Riviera Beach officials failed to recognize their cries for relief.

So Singer Island residents lobbied Commissioner Karen Marcus to push the issue forward; it still requires state review and a second county commission vote. Commissioners Mary McCarty and Addie Greene dissented, with Chairman Tony Masilotti and Commissioner Burt Aaronson absent.

Marcus has said that a 2003 traffic study underestimated the island's future growth and that many of its residents have said traffic is bursting along North Ocean Drive. Dozens of Singer Island residents filled the commission meeting and spoke in support of the measure to limit traffic.

"It's a safety as well as a quality-of-life issue," Singer Island resident Susan Hoffman said. "I feel as though our city doesn't listen to what's important for us."

The traffic issue touched off a running feud between Brown and Marcus. Marcus, whose district includes Singer Island, has tried to thwart Riviera Beach's redevelopment efforts, according to Brown, who decided it was time for the city to strike back.

"We refuse to be treated as though we're second-class citizens," Brown said after the county meeting.

Brown and Wade said the county is isolating the city by imposing traffic standards that apply only to Riviera Beach.

Wade said the move had the air of politics, then pointed to the four rows of Singer Island residents in the commission chambers. "They want absolutely, positively nothing to be built on the island," Wade said.

However, there are several high-rise projects under construction on Singer Island. In addition, the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency are negotiating with developers to build a 28-story Marriott hotel and 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants to replace the Ocean Mall at the public beach.

City officials are still smarting from Bush's signing of a law that stops cities such as Riviera Beach from using eminent domain for economic purposes. City officials thought state lawmakers would exempt Riviera Beach from the new law, but that didn't happen after political infighting in the legislature.

On Riviera Beach's latest tactic, Bush could not be reached for comment as he continued his European tour. But a spokesman said officials were shocked to learn of Brown's proposal.

"It would seem to defy logic that if you're trying to economically revitalize your city that you would tell the biotech industry that you're not interested in them developing a sector within your city," spokesman Russell Schweiss said.

The city and county, along with Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Park and Mangonia Park, each forged an agreement to create a biotech district and an advisory board that would ensure industrially-zoned land needed for biotech wouldn't turn into homes or strip malls.

Some 48.5 million square feet of potential biotech space includes vacant land with appropriate zoning and existing industrial building space. Riviera Beach's tally accounts for more than half that space at 27.9 million square feet. Yet even removing the city from the mix would still leave enough space to satisfy Bush's vision of 8 million square feet of Scripps spinoff companies.

"We want Riviera Beach there. There's a six-party agreement in place, and everybody's worked so hard," said Shannon LaRocque, Scripps program manager for the county. "It would be very unfortunate (if they stepped away), but we still meet the governor's minimum criteria."

Any government withdrawing from the plan must provide a year's notice, according to the agreement signed by the five cities and the county. Riviera Beach is scheduled to host the bioscience land use advisory board, which oversees the use of the biotech space, at a 2 p.m. meeting today at city hall.

Commissioner Greene understood Brown's response. But she cautioned that city officials shouldn't overreact.

"I think they're so angry because they always feel they're being picked on by the county," said Greene, whose district includes Riviera Beach's mainland neighborhoods. "They're trying to cut their nose to spite their face."

Both Greene and Marcus said biotech businesses would only spur economic development in Riviera Beach.

"This is a real benefit, a positive to them, too," Marcus said.