Riviera council may strip lease law

RIVIERA BEACH An ordinance once vital to the $280 million makeover of the Ocean Mall may be repealed in an effort to enforce a mandate by voters to limit growth on the city's beach.

At Wednesday night's council meeting, the five-member board will consider overturning an ordinance that was originally passed in October to sweeten the city's deal with builder Dan Catalfumo to redevelop the Ocean Mall, which sits on the municipal beach on Singer Island. The previous council approved changing the city's charter by ordinance to increase the lease from 50 to 99 years.

Striking down the ordinance is among a series decisions that the new council will undertake as part of the agenda being promoted by a Singer Island-mainland coalition. The election united the predominantly white Singer Island with old-guard leaders in the mainland's black community.

As a result, a racially diverse coalition has emerged and is redefining the city's agenda. When it comes to redevelopment, the priority appears to be to undo the decisions made by the former council, which supported Catalfumo's Ocean Mall redevelopment.

The council also may decide to settle two court cases involving eminent domain. Riviera Beach was sued last year after residents feared the city was going to move forward with taking private land for its $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment.

The coalition's agenda won't stop there. It will broaden to include revisiting the city's garbage contract with Waste Management Inc. and renegotiating the city's deal with master developer Viking Inlet Harbor Properties to redevelop 400 acres along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard, one of three new council members elected by the coalition, supports repealing the ordinance because it's inconsistent with the outcome of the election.

"This speaks to what voters voted for," Hubbard said. "They did not want to increase the lease on the public beach from 50 to 99 years."

At the time, Catalfumo told the council that banks wouldn't finance the $280 million project unless the lease was for 99 years. His plans were to raze the 33-year-old Ocean Mall and build shops, restaurants and a 28-story condo/hotel.

But the public argued that the council didn't have the authority to amend the city's charter by ordinance and should have held a referendum. Voters showed their anger in March by ousting the four incumbents up for reelection and passing two charter amendments that set limits on building at the municipal beach.

Councilwoman Norma Duncombe, a supporter of ousted Mayor Michael Brown, said she's sticking with her decision to support the 99-year lease.

She is concerned that her new colleagues are unaware of the potential legal liability to the city of a decision to repeal.

"I know the package that we had benefited all of the citizens of the city," Duncombe said. "I have no reason to waiver on that."

Under the deal, Catalfumo agreed to a community-benefits package that provided 25 percent of the construction to black contractors and guaranteed blacks would be a part of the sales force marketing the condo/hotel.

The project also would have paid for cultural activities such as the city's annual Jazz and Blues Festival as well as provide money for nonprofit organizations.

Catalfumo eventually recognized that the 99-year lease issue had growing opposition in the community. When it came to time to close the deal, Catalfumo opted to lease the city's 11-acre beach for 50 years.

By then, however, the damage had been done, and residents successfully mounted a petition drive that got two charter amendments on the March 13 ballot. The amendments passed overwhelmingly, keeping leases on the public beach to 50 years and limiting buildings to five stories.

Singer Island resident Bill Contole said the council's action on repealing the ordinance closes the door on Catalfumo's efforts. It also saves tax dollars because the city isn't going to court to fight against the wishes of its residents, he said.

"The council is going to save money by not wasting the taxpayers' money over an issue that the people voted on already," said Contole, president of the Singer Island group Citizens for Responsible Growth for Riviera Beach. "You can't circumvent the will of the people."