2 downtown Delray businesses set to resist eminent domain: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 9/28/05

By Rani Gupta

Two long-standing downtown [Delray Beach] businesses say they will fight a city agency's eminent domain action that could force them to move during the height of the lucrative winter season.

The Community Redevelopment Agency agreed last week to pay $2.75 million for the former Love's Drugs building, the final piece of property needed for a 523-space parking garage planned at Old School Square.

Although the building's owner has agreed to the settlement, a CRA attorney plans to file eminent domain papers today to force the building's two tenants, Hugh Jorgan's: The Dueling Piano Bar and Costin's Trellis Garden, to vacate the building at 96 N.E. Second Ave.

Janice Vaccaro, owner of the flower shop, said she could be put out of business if she has to move before the busy Christmas and Valentine's Day holidays.

"They've waited this long, they can wait a couple more months," Vaccaro said. "Everything I own is wrapped up in this business."

Hugh Jorgan's owner Mike DiBartolo said he hopes to keep his bar, which has been open for six years, in downtown Delray Beach. He said he needs six months to find and prepare a new location.

"The season is coming up now and it's a bad time for us to have to relocate," DiBartolo said.

CRA Executive Director Diane Colonna said that, although the agency will negotiate with the tenants, it is unlikely the city will wait that long.

The city plans to start construction on the $11.4 million, five-story garage in February but wants to demolish the buildings as soon as possible to complete the garage by fall 2006, said Richard Hasko, the city's environmental services director. The CRA has bought a nearby building that now houses the Toussaint L'Ouverture charter school, and plans to buy the old Craige's Furniture store, which the agency will sell to the city.

Mayor Jeff Perlman said the city has a duty to voters, who approved a bond in January 2004 that included money for the garage. Since then, rising property values and construction costs have doubled the price of the garage.

"Our goal would be to work with them as best they can, but we have to look at the public's interest," Perlman said. "We have to balance the very legitimate needs of the businesses, but also the public's interest and the public's pocketbook, which is equally important, if not more so."

If negotiations fail, CRA attorney Bill Doney said he hopes to bring the case to court within two months. It would be up to a judge to decide when the tenants would vacate the building and how much money they would receive. The flower shop's lease runs through April. The bar's lease ends Friday, when it will revert to a month-to-month lease.

Vaccaro said she tried unsuccessfully to get out of the lease so she could relocate before the season starts. An attorney for property trustee Roberta Love Kendall did not return a call for comment late Tuesday.

The $2.75 million price is 45 percent above the property's appraised value. CRA officials said the price, which includes attorney fees, is justified because it avoids the costs of taking the building through eminent domain and because rapidly increasing land values would negate the March appraisal.

The charter school's application to move to a spot at Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail was rejected because the 150 students were deemed too many for the building. The school, which must vacate the building in November, plans to resubmit the application this week.

Palm Beach Post: www.palmbeachpost.com