RIVIERA BEACH — As the Ocean Mall site plan sat before the city
council for a final vote, an effort to delay the proposal was brewing.
This time, however, the city council didn't blink. It voted 4-1
Wednesday to approve the plan, reviving Riviera Beach's stalled
Builder Dan Catalfumo now can construct 60,000 square feet of shops
and restaurants where the 35-year-old mall sits on Singer Island. All
that's left is for the council to rubber-stamp a comprehensive plan
amendment that joins three parcels into a single tract.
"We're excited we had so much support from the council and the
public," said Joey Eichner, president of Catalfumo Development and
The site plan approval comes after five years of bitter wrangling
that sometimes divided the city along political and racial lines. Those
concerns forced developers to reduce the scale of the project, and a
once-massive set of condo towers has given way to a five-story hotel
with shops and restaurants.
The result reflects the efforts of residents who had charged the Palm
Beach Gardens builder with attempting to overdevelop their beloved
Singer Island. But most naysayers departed once Catalfumo agreed to
accept the residents' wishes.
"The public's fingerprints are on the plan," said Dawn Pardo, who had
launched the effort to eliminate the 28-story condo-hotel from
Catalfumo's plan. "I think this is a plan we can live with."
Pardo led the charge that prompted voters in March to limit buildings
on the city's beach to five stories and keep leases to 50 years.
However, in downsizing the hotel, the city lost about $230 million in
revenue. But a community benefits plan is still in place that lets the
city share in the hotel's profits and ensures that blacks participate in
building the project.
Even with those changes, some people wanted to delay approving the
project until the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council issues its
final report. The planning council was hired in September to reevaluate
the city's redevelopment plan.
In October, the planning council made public its preliminary report
and used computer animation to show changes in the mall plan.
Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard had been pushing since early November for
her colleagues not to vote on the scaled-back project. She wanted to see
whether the planners' final report would offer any additional ideas.
Retired Circuit Judge Edward Rodgers echoed Hubbard's concerns that
the city council was acting before the planning council finished its
work. He threatened to resign as chairman of the steering committee that
gathered support for the planning council and its redevelopment plan.
"I just question their integrity in appointing this committee," he
said. "I felt used and I still feel used."
By moving the Ocean Mall project forward, city council members seemed
to suggest that their minds were already made up, said Rodgers, a former
Riviera Beach city councilman.
However, before the planning council began its work, the city reached
a settlement with Catalfumo ending a lawsuit over the Ocean Mall. That
agreement called for the site plan to move forward through the city's
planning process and limited the regional council's ability to make
wide-ranging comments on the plan.
Rodgers didn't resign, and did not speak against the project when it
came to a vote.
In the end, Councilman Cedrick Thomas summed up the sentiments of his
colleagues and residents.
"All I want is to see something built," he said. "I want to see a
building come out of the ground."