Marcus, Riviera clash over growth of Singer Island

By William Cooper Jr.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 25, 2006

RIVIERA BEACH A zoning change that would limit growth on Singer Island, which is being pushed by County Commissioner Karen Marcus, has city officials fuming and threatening to sue the county if a compromise isn't reached.

Both the mayor and the council chairwoman charge that Marcus is meddling in the city's redevelopment plans, where she doesn't belong. But Marcus, whose district includes Singer Island, counters that island residents have lost faith in city officials and approached her about the change because the county has jurisdiction over traffic standards.

The impact of the zoning changes on Singer Island could ripple to the mainland, where the city is undertaking a $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment.

City and county officials are poised to battle over whether Riviera Beach's traffic study on its redevelopment portrays an accurate picture of the impact future growth will have on Singer Island. A review of the Kimley-Horn study suggests the city underestimated the number of cars that would crowd the island's North Ocean Drive, Marcus said.

"We're not trying to be unfair," she said.

City officials contend that while Marcus is trying to control growth, the change would virtually freeze development on Singer Island. Marcus' amendment to the county's comprehensive plan, which regulates growth countywide, would force properties to remain at their current density even though the zoning allows for more capacity, City Manager Bill Wilkins said.

Wilkins also said Riviera Beach would be the only city in the county to operate under such an amendment. By law, county officials have the authority to dictate traffic standards in cities.

In a March 7 letter to County Engineer George Webb, Wilkins asked that the county not proceed with the change until both sides can reach an agreement. Wilkins warned Webb that Riviera Beach is "prepared to vigorously defend its position through whatever means are available to the city."

That means going to court, according to Mary McKinney, the city's community development director. First, however, the matter has to go before the seven-member county commission in April.

Singer Island resident Robert Nevins said city officials are so development-driven that they have forgotten the interests of the residents. Nevins and other residents spoke in favor of the amendment at the county's Land Use Advisory Board meeting Friday.

"I got up at that meeting and told them unfortunately, the citizens and the residents need protection from our own government," Nevins said.

Another Singer Island resident, Gordon Rowse, also supports the amendment. Rowse said he can no longer trust council members.

"They say they are going to protect the culture on Singer Island, and they aren't doing it," Rowse said. "I'm looking out for my quality of life, and I'm just watching that erode away like crazy."

Marcus' amendment comes at a time when the city is negotiating to redevelop the Ocean Mall property across from Singer Island's public beach. In 2005, Marriott Vacation Club International was chosen for the project and proposed building two 24-story time-share towers, a retail center for shops and restaurants and a 250-room hotel.

But city and Singer Island residents balked at the proposal, saying it failed to provide enough public access to the beach.

The city council, which sits as the Community Redevelopment Agency board, is awaiting a revised plan from the development team, which now includes Dan Catalfumo, Boca Raton resident Norton Herrick and Andrew Brock, who currently holds a 50-year lease on the Ocean Mall.

City officials are uncertain whether the amendment would affect the Ocean Mall redevelopment.

Meanwhile, Marcus' proposal has brought together Mayor Michael Brown and Council Chairwoman Liz Wade, who typically are at odds. Brown and Wade have vowed to fight it because it could thwart redevelopment plans for Singer Island.

"She has continued to involve herself with our redevelopment over the years," Brown said of Marcus. "This is just a constant battle, and we have to fight."

Wade is particularly upset because she supported the north county's efforts to land The Scripps Research Institute by offering 2.4 million square feet of industrial space in the city. Three weeks ago, when Marcus attended a special council meeting that included approval of the industrial space commitment, Wade reminded Marcus not to forget that the city was cooperating with the county.

"I don't know what she's trying to do," Wade said.

But Marcus denies there was supposed to be some sort of quid pro quo. She's looking out for the best interest of her constituents.

"We have reached out to the city," Marcus said. "I understand their redevelopment, but it shouldn't be done on the backs on the residents of Singer Island."