OFFER FEED-BACK TO THE COLUMNIST CLICK ON HIS NAME.....
Riviera weighs 99-year lease of
residents who say voter approval is needed plan to challenge a council
vote expected Wednesday.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2006
RIVIERA BEACH -- Builder Dan
Catalfumo has enough city council votes to lease the public beach for 99
years in his $280 million bid to make over the Ocean Mall. But he
may not have enough sway over Singer Island Residents who are poised to
challenge the council's vote in court and believe the decision should be
taken out of the hands of the council and put to Riviera Beach voters.
With that as a backdrop, the
council will vote Wednesday night on whether to extend the lease from 50
to 99 years by amending the city charter, a key decision in advancing
the city's $2.4 billion waterfront development.
Councilman Jim Jackson, who represents Singer Island, said residents
don't support the project and plan either to sue the city for failing to
take the charter amendment to the voters or push to get enough
signatures to place the length of the lease on the March 2007 ballot.
"No matter what the council does, there is going to be a backlash," said
Jackson, who will vote against giving Catalfumo the 99-year lease.
"Singer Island is opposed to this project, and nobody is listening."
On Aug. 23, the council voted 4-1 to give Ocean Mall Redevelopment, the
group led by Catalfumo that's redeveloping the mall, preliminary
approval to build a 28-story Marriott hotel/condo and 60,000 square feet
of shops and restaurants.
Joey Eichner, a Catalfumo spokesman and senior vice president, said
getting the 99-lease is key to getting the project financed. He said 99
years has become the industry standard for financing such projects.
Under the agreement with Riviera
Beach, Catalfumo will lease the city's 11-acre beach for 50 years with
an automatic 49-year renewal, according to plans submitted to the
Community Redevelopment Agency and the city. "We're talking about
a $280 million investment," Eichner said. "With that kind of money you
need to get a return on your investment, and it just takes more than 50
years to get that kind of return."
Eichner said the company is willing to work with Singer Island
residents. He believes the project has its share of supporters on the
island. "I think the majority of residents on Singer Island would
like to see the redevelopment occur and do not have an issue with the
project as proposed," he said.
City Manager Bill Wilkins said legal opinions from former CRA attorney
Elizabeth McBride and City Attorney Pamela Ryan support the council's
authority to amend the charter without going to the voters. The
council, which also sits as the CRA board, can change the charter by
ordinance, which requires votes at two council meetings, he said.
"Our legal opinion has been that there are limited issues that are
required by state law to go to the voters," Wilkins said. "This is not
one of them."
Attorney and Singer Island resident Bill Contole contends that the
city's legal position is wrong. There is case law that shows such
charter changes must go before voters, he said. The council is
ignoring the will of the people, and that decision could prove costly in
the future, according to Contole.
"It's the people who get to decide, not the developers," said Contole,
whose organization, Citizens for Responsible Growth for Riviera Beach,
has sued the city over approvals given to developers. "They're going to
end up in a situation where they (the council) may end op paying for
Controversy always has followed the city's effort to lease its public
beach. The original 50-year lease with the Brock family in 1972 caused
problems because the city failed to enforce annual cost-of-living
increases on the $20,000 yearly lease payment.
Last month, Catalfumo bought out Brock's remaining 16 years on the lease
for $9.5 million. Only a few tenants remain, and the structure built in
the 1970's is in desperate need of renovation.
In addition to the lease, Singer Island residents oppose the height of
the hotel. They argue that it's out of character with Key West village
concept residents supported when the CRA master plan was approved,
Still, the city, CRA and Catalfumo are forging ahead. The goal is to
bring a final deal on the Ocean Mall project to the council for a vote
Oct.4. California consultant Bernard Kinsey, who was hired in May,
has been the city's and CRA's lead negotiator on the mall project.
Kinsey believes residents will support the project once they see the
benefits it will produce for the city.
Initial negotiations have produced the opportunity for the city to buy
back the portion of the lease that covers the 60,000 square feet of
shops and restaurants, he said. After 30 years, the city can regain
control over that part of the beach.
Kinsey also has reached an agreement under which the city will get a
share of Marriott's profits from the hotel/condo units.