Riviera residents weary of city's promise to abide by eminent domain law

By Sally Apgar
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Posted November 17 2006
The Riviera Beach City Council unanimously passed a toothless resolution Wednesday night saying it will abide by the state law governing eminent domain powers, which does not allow the seizure of private property so it can be given to developers for private redevelopment.

But critics of the city's intent to use eminent domain for its massive $2.4 billion redevelopment plan say the resolution is "meaningless" because the city retains the power to take 400 acres of private property so developer Viking Inlet Properties can build a waterfront project featuring condos, a hotel, marina, aquarium and stores.

"This resolution is no consolation to the homeowners and businesses that lie in the path of Viking's bulldozers," said Bert Gall, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which filed a lawsuit in September on behalf of four Riviera Beach businesses and homeowners.

The suit asks the court to declare the use of eminent domain unconstitutional when taking private property for the sake of private development.

Gall said, "The resolution is meaningless because it doesn't actually bind the city to follow the state law [in the case of the Viking project]."

Mayor Michael Brown, who has championed eminent domain as a way to lift the economic fortunes of Riviera Beach, could not be reached for comment. Brown has not signed the resolution, which passed 5-0.

Historically, government has used eminent domain to confiscate private property when it is in the public interest to build roads, schools or hospitals. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under certain conditions government could take private property to give to a private developer who is building a project that will lift the economic development of an area.

Florida was among many states that reacted to the ruling by passing legislation making it illegal to take private property for private development. On May 11, Gov. Jeb Bush signed that legislation into law. And this past Election Day, 69 percent of voters statewide approved a constitutional change question put on the ballot to back up the law.

Sally Apgar can be reached at 561-228-5506 or at sapgar@sun-sentinel.com