By Alan Gomez, William Cooper Jr., Will Vash
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 05, 2006
TALLAHASSEE; The fates of future redevelopment efforts in
Riviera Beach and Boynton Beach were sealed Thursday when the
legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that severely restricts
governments' ability to take private property using eminent
The bill is a direct reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision
last year that upheld laws allowing governments to take property
for purely economic development purposes. Some cities, counties
and developers are calling it an overreaction that will kill
their redevelopment efforts across the state.
Lawmakers from Palm Beach County tried several times to add a
four-year exemption for ongoing projects — including
Riviera Beach's $2.6 billion waterfront revitalization project
and the Heart of Boynton effort.
But Thursday morning, the last amendment to save the
redevelopment projects was shot down in the Senate. Then, the
Senate passed the bill 38-2. The House followed with a 115-0
vote to pass it, and Gov. Jeb Bush said he would "absolutely"
sign the bill (HB 1567) when it reaches his desk.
Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown had planned to rally hundreds
of city residents in Tallahassee this morning to call for the
exemption to save what he called a "rescue mission" of his city.
After Thursday's votes, Brown canceled the rally but said he
would not give up on Riviera Beach's redevelopment.
"We're used to swimming upstream," Brown said. "These types of
things have been dropped on us for years."
Under the bill, governments would be restricted from taking
someone's property and handing it over to private developers,
with few exceptions. The bill allows governments to take
properties only for traditional public service purposes such as
parks, schools, roads and utilities.
The new law would not affect eminent domain cases already filed
in court, meaning individual cases can proceed. But the day Bush
signs the bill, taking property under the current law, which is
far more lenient, will no longer be allowed.
Legislators also approved a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR
1569) that would ask voters in November whether they want to
cement the restrictions lawmakers approved into the state
constitution. If voters approve the amendment, it would go into
effect Jan 2.
Riviera Beach officials estimate that more than 1,000 residents
would have to be displaced through eminent domain to complete
the waterfront redevelopment they are envisioning. Without that
tool, they say speculators will swoop in, purchase properties
and force the developer to pay exorbitant amounts for them.
Viking Inlet Harbor already has purchased $30 million worth of
waterfront property and is the likely master developer. On
Thursday, Viking Chairman Robert Healy expressed his frustration
with what he says was a salvation of the impoverished city.
"They're playing politics with people's lives," Healy said.
"They're more concerned with voter reaction."
Sen. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, sponsored the failed
amendment Thursday that would have given Riviera Beach and
Boynton Beach more time to finish their projects. She said the
only recourse left is for Riviera Beach to challenge the new law
in court, a move Brown is considering.
"It's different if they were just going to do this," Dawson
said. "They have been working on this project for years now and
the legislature should not have the right to say, 'Oh by the
Boynton Beach officials are further along with their
redevelopment effort, but now will have to rush to get eminent
domain cases to court.
The city has secured most of the lots it needs for the 10.3-acre
first phase of the project because eminent domain lawsuits
already have been filed.
City commissioners are expected to approve a resolution of
necessity on May 16 to begin eminent domain proceedings on the
final four parcels, and the city could file a petition with the
court by June 17.
But if Bush signs the bill into law before that date, those lots
cannot be taken, said Boynton Beach Development Director Quintus
Owners of those remaining lots have maintained their willingness
to work in conjunction with the Community Redevelopment Agency
to develop their properties, although they would have much
stronger bargaining power under the new law.
"We're going to have to deal with whatever cards are dealt us,"
Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor said. "It's really up in the
Legislators defended their decision to cut off any exemptions
Thursday by saying that Floridians have been clear in their
desire to stop the use of eminent domain allowed under the
landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.
Florida is one of many states that have responded to the high
court's decision last June in Kelo vs. New London, Conn., in
which the justices found that the city could take residents'
homes so a private developer could put up a riverfront hotel and
Soon after that decision, House Speaker Allan Bense created the
Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights, and
legislators have worked on curbing the taking of private
As cities and counties began realizing how far legislators were
going to restrict eminent domain powers, they began showing up
in Tallahassee and speaking out against what they dubbed an
overreaction to Kelo. But legislators made it clear that they
had heard enough.
"There are lots of good people that came to us and said, 'Just
this, just this, just this.' But I don't think that's what the
public is asking for," said Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter
Garden, who sponsored the Senate bill. "It'll only open the
Despite the outcry in Riviera Beach and Boynton Beach, property
rights advocates hailed Thursday's passage.
"They have just helped reverse the Supreme Court's ruling on
eminent domain in our state," said Carol Saviak, executive
director of the Coalition for Property Rights. "As soon as Gov.
Bush signs this legislation, Florida will have the strongest
protections against eminent domain abuse in the nation."