Senate weakens eminent domain bill: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 4/25/06

By Alan Gomez

[Florida] senators made a significant turnaround Monday on a bill aimed at limiting the ability of governments to seize private property through eminent domain by temporarily exempting ongoing projects like those in Riviera Beach and possibly Boynton Beach.

Legislators have been working for eight months to craft a bill that would no longer allow local governments to use eminent domain to take private property for economic redevelopment after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law in June that allowed New London, Conn., to take people's homes for just that reason.

But on Monday, Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown made an impassioned plea to senators to allow him the chance to fulfill the $2 billion redevelopment of his city, which will require displacing more than 1,000 renters and homeowners to revitalize the city's waterfront.

Brown told senators he returned to Riviera Beach after college to attempt a "rescue mission" of his hometown, which he said leads the county in crime rates, AIDS rates, drug use rates and poverty rates.

"Without this (exception), we will be certainly relegating those kids and those families to a sure and complete and continuing poverty," Brown said.

Senators agreed to a change that would allow community redevelopment agencies that have entered an agreement with a master developer by October to use the old, more-lenient standard for eminent domain takings through 2010. Otherwise, the bill (SB 2168) would severely restrict takings geared toward economic development in cases filed after Oct. 1.

Riviera Beach has not signed a contract with Viking Inlet Harbor to develop the property, but the bill would give the city more than five months to complete those negotiations.

The bill could also affect Boynton Beach's redevelopment efforts, where city officials are trying to revitalize the Heart of Boynton partly through eminent domain proceedings. Without the exception, Boynton Beach's ongoing and planned eminent domain proceedings could be wiped out by the new law.

Boynton Beach Assistant City Manager Wilfred Hawkins said he doesn't know the city's time frame for finding a master developer, but he said of the Senate bill, "That language would be of concern."

The language also concerned the Rev. E.J. Maddox of Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ, which the city has sued to take by eminent domain for its Heart of Boynton project.

"I think a face-lift of Boynton is greatly needed and is good," Maddox said. "However, when you talk about taking people's property that have worked very hard all their lives... where are they going to go to afford housing?"

The House has already given a strong indication of its thoughts on the exception for ongoing projects.

The House version of the bill (HB 1567) that was passed unanimously two weeks ago would go into effect July 1 and contains no exceptions of any kind.

Reps. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, and Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach, tried to amend that bill on the House floor to provide an exception similar to the one put in the Senate bill Monday, but withdrew the amendment when told that it would be voted down.

Property rights advocates called the exception a dangerous slippery slope that could open the door for other government agencies to take advantage of.

"If it's wrong to take people's property, it's wrong today and nothing's going to make it right six months from now," said Carol Saviak, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights.

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