Bills curbing eminent domain could break Heart of Boynton plans: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 4/26/06

By Will Vash

As [Florida] state legislators tinker with bills to curtail the power of eminent domain for economic redevelopment, the city's first phase of the ambitious Heart of Boynton project is facing immediate deadlines and future phases are in question.

CRA staff will ask board members next month to consider requests for proposals from developers interested in rebuilding the "blighted" community along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard just east of Seacrest Boulevard so the city can use the present law, CRA Executive Director Lisa Bright said Tuesday.

An amendment added to a Senate bill this week would require governments using eminent domain to choose a master developer by Oct. 1 if they want to use the present, more lenient standards. A House bill, which would take effect July 1, would ban government agencies from taking property for privately owned development.

"We clearly want the public to know we are very committed to redevelopment in the Heart of Boynton," Bright said. "We feel very strongly the legislation would hinder us."

Debris-strewn lots, churches, older houses and buildings in the city's northeast district will be replaced under the first phase of the Heart of Boynton plan by shops and businesses topped with affordable condominium units if the city can seize key pieces of the land through eminent domain law. Single-family homes also are planned in future phases.

About 13 of the 30 lots in the 10.3-acre first phase are listed for eminent domain. The city has filed lawsuits on five of those lots and planned to use the law for future phases.

Development Director Quintus Greene said the legislature's proposals are "short sighted."

"We may be successful in phase one but if you can't exercise eminent domain, it poses a problem for future phases," Greene said. "It's going to condemn some communities to be blighted forever."

Mayor Jerry Taylor said the latest news from Tallahassee means the city and the CRA would have to work hard to meet a proposed Oct. 1 deadline.

"I don't know if we can pull it out by then," Taylor said. "At least we need to take a shot at it."

Andrew Brigham, an eminent domain attorney in Jacksonville who is representing several Daytona Beach residents, said the original Senate bill would have banned eminent domain for private development, but the bill has been watered down to give current CRA projects time to get their plans through before a cutoff date.

"The CRAs are going to be ramping it up all over the state," Brigham said. "They are being encouraged to put the pedal to the metal."

The stricter House bill would allow a city such as Boynton Beach to file eminent domain lawsuits until July 1, Brigham said. If all the lawsuits are in by then, Brigham said a judge probably would weigh whether the use of eminent domain was for public or private interest because of proposed legislative changes.

"Essentially the legislature is taking away a critical tool," Greene said. "It's going to adversely affect our redevelopment efforts."

Commissioner Mack McCray, who represents the northeast district, said he believes the CRA has been "dragging its feet" on the redevelopment plan for the past three years and as a result would not find a project developer for phase one to meet a proposed deadline.

"They have not a done thing for the Heart of Boynton except buying some empty lots," McCray said. "It's too little, too late."

But CRA member Al DeMarco said residents in the Heart of Boynton area have waited years for economic redevelopment.

"We can't wait," DeMarco said. "We have to do something."

Palm Beach Post: http://www.palmbeachpost.com