Riviera Beach considers new development plan

Riviera Beach - City Hall council chambers were packed Saturday with all that is Riviera Beach: rich and poor and black and white all listening to instructions for creating their city's new master plan.

Then came questions: We already have plans, so why reinvent the wheel? And what about all the money the city spent on the old plan?

Former Mayor Michael Brown, who lost his seat in March in a battle over redevelopment, stood up to say that it was disingenuous to suggest the former plan had no value. It brought new buildings and new tax revenues, he said.

If you go:

The Design Studio will be held today through Thursday,
9 a.m. to 10 p.m., in the Utilities Department conference room
at 600 Blue Heron Blvd., Riviera Beach.

A presentation will start at 7 p.m. Friday in City Hall
at the same address.

It was a tense launch of an event that is supposed to bring people together.

But a longtime resident of the city's run-down west side, Mary Brabham was having none of it.

"I would like for the people gathered here today to come up with a comprehensive plan that doesn't exclude, but includes," Brabham said.

"I would like to say to the people of Singer Island, we are all in this together. Someone mentions the name Riviera Beach, it is a stigma. Do you think you can escape it?" she asked. "I would like to see all of us get together and create a comprehensive plan."

In this way, the splintered communities of Riviera Beach put down their sometimes barbed relations on Saturday and instead picked up colored markers and started drawing together. They drew for hours, planning projects to help the city overcome years of blight.

Hands waved, others drew, still others took notes as residents stood around tables and created the Riviera Beach they want.

"Riviera Beach has been the stepchild of Palm Beach County. They have been beaten up for so long, so many years," said County Commissioner Addie Greene, who represents Riviera Beach. "The citizens are saying, 'Enough is enough. We want a working waterfront. We want jobs. We want businesses. We deserve it.'"

The weeklong process of residents helping redesign the master redevelopment plan started Saturday. The meeting, run by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, is intended to help heal this city, troubled by redevelopment woes.

The city came under scathing criticism for its redevelopment spending in a state audit last year that has led to a federal investigation. And Singer Island residents battled Brown over having a say on the redevelopment of Ocean Mall on the island's only public beach. They won a referendum fight and helped push him out of office.

Brown and his supporters say they had the rug pulled out from under them last year when the state passed a law barring cities from using eminent domain to seize private property for redevelopment. 

"The city put out tons of money and to just throw those plans out doesn't make sense," Councilwoman Norma Duncomb said.

Dawn Pardo, a leader of the referendum fight, said there was a good cross-section of residents. 
"We have residents from the mainland, from Singer Island," Pardo said. "We have developers here and small business owners. This is exactly what we were hoping for."

The groups came up with more than a dozen plans, many highlighting the need to create a gateway along Broadway and Blue Heron Boulevard and build activity-rich waterfronts both at the marina and Ocean Mall.

Treasure Coast planners will spend the next five days publicly pulling all those plans together with public input.

"Plans that we do are intended to unify the community, not divide," said Michael Busha, head of the Treasure Coast. "There is a division in Riviera Beach ... between Singer Island and the mainland and that's got to stop. The only way I know how to do that in my profession is to unify them over a plan. Something that is going to help everybody."

Dianna Cahn can be reached at dcahn@sun-sentinel.com or 561-228-5501.