Lawsuit settled between city, developer, committee

By Sarah Stover
Staff writer
Posted: 2007 Oct 19 - 01:25

SINGER ISLAND - A three-party litigation over a referendum regarding the Ocean Mall on Singer Island has ended.  The settlement was unanimously approved at a special Riviera Beach City Council meeting on Oct. 11.  It came before the council on Oct. 3, but was postponed so all the parties involved could have a closed executive session.

As part of the settlement, the developers - Palm Beach Gardens-based Catalfumo Construction and the Marriott hotel chain - dismissed their lawsuit against the city and petition committee members without prejudice. All parties are responsible for their respective legal fees.

OMRD sued the city of Riviera Beach and five of its residents over the validation of two amendments to the city charter regarding the Ocean Mall property. The amendments were added after the majority of the residents voted for them during municipal elections in March.

OMRD won the bid to redevelop the 11 acres of property on the Ocean Mall, and got approval from the previous city council for a 99-year lease on the property last October.

Representatives from Catalfumo argued that they needed a lease of that length in order to obtain financing for the project, since more banks and lenders used that as the length of time needed to see a return.

The decision changed the city charter and some residents argued that they should be the ones to change the city charter, not the council.

The city's charter allowed for a 50-year lease to anyone who leased the Ocean Mall property. Catalfumo had asked the city for a 50-year lease with an automatic 49-year renewal.

Singer Island resident Dawn Pardo formed a petition committee, which included residents Diana DiMeo, Kathy Groover, Draga Lindblom and Gordon Rowse, shortly after to fight the decision. The committee circulated two petitions for amendments to the city charter. One set a maximum lease of 50 years for anyone who leases the Ocean Mall property and the other set a maximum height of five stories for any building constructed on the property.

OMRD had planned to build a 28-story mixed-use building on the property, and the majority of residents were not in favor of that since it would block the view of the ocean.

Residents were also worried the proposed project would take away their ability to access the beach.

Although enough signatures were collected to put the items on the ballot as changes to be voted on by residents, the city and the petition committee got into a dispute because the council backed city clerk Carrie Ward, who claimed the petitions were not administered properly and some of the signatures were not those of Riviera Beach residents.

The city filed a lawsuit against the petition committee.

Ms. Pardo countered with a lawsuit that claimed the city, its council and Ms. Ward were not performing their duties correctly. Since the lawsuits involved the same issues, they were ruled on by one judge. Palm Beach County judge David Crow issued an alternative writ of mandamus in regard to Ms. Pardo's case, which meant the city had to show cause as to why the proposed amendments should not go on the ballot.

When the city failed to do so, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley decided the items would go on the ballot during the municipal elections in March, and both amendments passed with a majority of the vote by the residents.

However, OMRD argued that allowing the residents to vote on the items was invalid. This led to problems for the developer when it sought site plan approval for the first phase of the project, which includes the retail center. The mixed-use building or hotel would be phase two.

However, the problem with accepting the site plan while the lawsuit was still going on was that if Catalfumo won and the referendums were declared invalid, the developer would still be able to build a 28-story building on the site, said Councilwoman Lynn Hubbard at a public meeting held at the Hilton Hotel on Singer Island on June 29.

At the same meeting, Councilman Cedrick Thomas told the developer he would not work with them until they dropped the lawsuit.

Other terms of the settlement included that the current site plan for phase one should continue to be processed and OMRD's site plan for phase two will include a five-story building with a minimum of 100 hotel suites.

Ms. Pardo was happy the case was finally settled.

"The referendum was always about preserving public beach access for the residents of Riviera Beach. I am proud that Mr. Dan Catalfumo and Mr. Norton Herrick, the principals of OMRD, have chosen to respect the will of the people.

"OMRD and the residents of Riviera Beach must now work together to make the Ocean Mall an exquisite jewel in Riviera Beach's crown," said Ms. Pardo.