Florida city sued over
By Joyce Howard Price
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
June 18, 2006
Two Riviera Beach, Fla., residents have sued the city to try to
stop condemnation of private property for development of a $2.4
billion, 400-acre waterfront project.
Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, has asked the state attorney
general to review the legality of the city's bid to bypass new
state regulations against the use of eminent domain for such
Russell Schweiss, a spokesman for the governor, said Mr. Bush
thinks Riviera Beach may have violated state sunshine laws by
its limited public notice of a City Council meeting on May 11.
During that meeting, a resolution was approved authorizing a
contract between the city and New Jersey-based developer Viking
Inlet Harbor Properties for the redevelopment project. The next
day, Mr. Bush signed the eminent-domain legislation.
Two Riviera Beach property owners who would be affected directly
by the waterfront redevelopment project filed a lawsuit in the
Palm Beach County Circuit Court on June 7, charging that the
hastily called City Council meeting violates Florida statutes
designed to ensure open government.
"Normally, we hear about a meeting five or seven days ahead of
time," unless it involves a weather emergency, plaintiff Fane
Lozman said. "But this was just a little notice on a [City Hall]
bulletin board the day before."
Mr. Lozman said he lives on a houseboat in the city-run marina
of Riviera Beach, which he says would be taken over by Viking
under the redevelopment agreement. He said he is certain that he
and as many as 200 other people "who live on boats in the
marina" would be displaced so Viking "can make way for high-end
yachts" and a multistory garage to house them.
"I want to remain on my houseboat in this city I love," he said.
Mr. Lozman said his partner in the lawsuit, Virginia Merchant,
initially signed a contract to sell her property for $2 million
but later sold it for $800,000, when she was told she would
receive only $572,000 if the site was condemned.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) sought an
injunction Monday to stop the project, which the low-income city
says is crucial for its economic survival.
The public interest law firm said the Riviera Beach project is
unlawful because a contract to proceed with the redevelopment
was signed a week after Florida lawmakers "overwhelmingly"
passed legislation "to prohibit cities from using the power of
eminent domain for purposes of economic development."
What's more, PLF said, it was known that Mr. Bush was "set to
sign the measure into law on May 11," so the council "raced to
pass a resolution authorizing a contract between the city" and
Viking a day earlier.
PLF is representing Jerry and Rene Corie, residents of Riviera
Beach who live in the area slated for redevelopment, as well as
the Coalition for Property Rights, an Orlando-based nonprofit
that "opposes threats to the sanctity of private property