12/19/2005

No eminent domain? Reinforce the promise: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 12/17/05

Editorial

Today's first of several workshops of the Riviera Beach City Council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board, should confirm what members have pledged all along: They do not intend to use eminent domain to accomplish the city's downtown waterfront redevelopment.

CRA Director Floyd Johnson says he welcomes the opportunity to dispel rumors.

"We in Florida," he said, "are distinctly different in our ability to exercise eminent domain from what the Supreme Court approved in New London, Connecticut. We are required to demonstrate slum and blight before eminent domain can be entertained. It can't be just for economic reasons, and people have blurred that line between Connecticut and Florida."

That's important because residents such as Martha Babson have challenged the state-required blight study. "We paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for our study," says City Council and CRA Chairwoman Elizabeth Wade. "If it is flawed, the state's process is flawed." Although the study's coauthor acknowledges that every individual building in the undeniably blighted area need not be blighted, however, the Legislature is looking into cleaning up some of its criteria.

Ms. Babson is hardly the face of the redevelopment challenge in the predominantly African-American city. Why thousands more should be denied benefits so she and others can continue living comfortably near the waterfront is the redevelopment plan's politically incorrect question.

But Ms. Wade is correct that relocated residents and businesses "have to be made whole. Every consideration has to be given, and the city has already done what people are now telling the Legislature we have got to do. We have had a relocation package in place since Skypass," the port bridge which she says required no eminent domain.

It is encouraging that Mr. Johnson promises to update the board on how in the two months since being selected as developer, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties has reduced the number of properties needed by quietly amassing them. "We don't want to throw out the Babsons to make room for the rich. We're trying to use the assets we have to accomplish the greater good, and we hope to stay focused on that while being sensitive."

The lay board's infighting and lack of financial acumen have caused delay, thus keeping too many in limbo for too long. Potentially project-busting property prices, meanwhile, have risen. If eminent domain isn't to be an issue, Riviera officials' rosy vision needs to move toward redevelopment reality.


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