Group wants Riviera lease on ballot

RIVIERA BEACH Residents opposed to the city leasing its public beach to developers for 99 years filed paperwork Friday to launch a petition drive to have the issue decided by voters and not the city council.

City Clerk Carrie Ward confirmed a five-person committee, chaired by Singer Island resident Dawn Pardo, submitted an affidavit to gather signatures to place on the ballot the question of increasing the lease from 50 to 99 years. The move comes two days after the council voted 4-1 to change the city charter to allow part of the beach to be leased for up to 99 years.

The lease extension is critical to a $280 million deal between the city and a group of developers led by Dan Catalfumo who want to build on 11 acres at the municipal beach. The council, sitting as the community redevelopment agency, will vote Wednesday on the project, which consists of a 28-story Marriott condo-hotel and turning the Ocean Mall into 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

Catalfumo said he needs the 99-year lease to finance the project. If approved, the Ocean Mall project will be the first major effort in the city's $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment.

Bill Contole, president of the Citizens for Responsible Growth for Riviera Beach, promised the council at its meeting Wednesday night that residents would seek to take the issue to referendum. He and other residents believe the council doesn't have the legal authority to change the charter.

"We're just saying we want the people to decide the issue," said Contole, who has sued the city in the past over development on Singer Island.

Mayor Michael Brown said residents are entitled to pursue a referendum. But Brown questioned the group's motives, saying many of the residents have always opposed redevelopment in Riviera Beach.

"I believe that the majority of residents will vote in favor of our plan," Brown said.

City Manager Bill Wilkins said legal opinions by former CRA attorney Elizabeth McBride and City Attorney Pamela Ryan support the council's actions.

The committee also will circulate petitions to limit the height of buildings on the public beach to five-stories. And they want the wording in the charter to say that the beach should be used solely for recreation and tourism.

The committee has 30 days to get 15 percent of the 19,614 registered voters in Riviera Beach to sign the petition. That's slightly less than 3,000 voters, a goal that Contole is confident the group can reach.

The committee and other residents will meet today to develop strategy and plan to start getting signatures over the weekend, Contole said.

Once the signatures are collected, the Supervisor of Elections Office must certify them as registered voters.

The city clerk will ask the council whether to hold a special election or reserve the questions for the next municipal election, March 7.