Bill severely limits developers access to seized land: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 3/14/06

By Alan Gomez

Riviera Beach's community redevelopment plan took a hard hit Monday when House members studying Florida's eminent domain laws approved a bill that would make it nearly impossible for private developers to get their hands on property taken by eminent domain.

Riviera Beach's master developer, Viking Group Chairman Bob Healy, conceded that eminent domain could not be used under the proposal approved by the House Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights.

With the Senate version of the bill considered even more protective of homeowners' rights, Riviera Beach and other communities in Florida may soon have to learn to live without eminent domain.

"It's light years different," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and an eminent domain attorney. Florida homeowners "are going to wake up to a whole new world of property rights."

State lawmakers have been working to restrict the use of eminent domain for privately-owned economic development in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that such use by local government agencies is allowed.

The Senate bill (SB 7102) would allow government takings only for traditionally-accepted public projects such as government buildings, parks, schools, roads, bridges, airports, seaports and utilities.

But the House committee had been considering a more flexible bill (HB 1567) that would allow a government to take a home and turn it over to aprivate entity if the government could meet a very high level of proof that the house was a threat to public health or safety.

On Monday the state House shifted its stance and expressly restricted transfers of condemned land from private homeowners to private entities. The only exception is when a government agency takes a property, holds it for five years and then determines it's no longer needed.

Healy said losing eminent domain powers won't directly affect his part of Riviera's $2.4 billion redevelopment plan — partly because he hasn't used or threatened to use condemnations.

But he said it could indirectly cause some damage, because he believes that speculators — knowing that he and Riviera Beach won't be able to use eminent domain to take needed properties — would buy the remaining plots of land and increase the price for the builder redeveloping Riviera Beach.

"You can buy so much, but then you get to the stage where the economics are such that they don't work," Healy said. "They should have legislation that does not condemn homeowners. But they should condemn speculators."

Palm Beach Post: www.palmbeachpost.com