Boynton abandons eminent domain in Heart area: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 6/22/06

By Will Vash

Eminent domain is dead in the Heart of Boynton [FL] redevelopment area.

After a closed-door session to discuss ongoing litigation, city commissioners voted 5-0 late Tuesday to end all eminent domain proceedings in the northeast redevelopment district.

That means the city will drop three lawsuits to acquire about 12 properties along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Seacrest Boulevard to Northeast First Street.

"We are pulling out," Mayor Jerry Taylor said. "We just figured it's going to be costly in the long run. Too many people would be willing to fight it."

John Little, attorney for several of the property owners, said he was surprised at the city's decision.

"This is a great day," Little said. "This now puts everyone in the position to negotiate freely in the open market. My clients can voluntarily decide if they want to sell."

The five-year Heart of Boynton plan calls for shops and businesses with affordable condominiums in place of weed-strewn lots and ramshackle buildings.

Single-family homes, affordable condos and park space are in the full project. Under that original blueprint, the CRA would collect the mostly nonconforming properties and rezone the area. Developers would compete for the projects.

The city and its community redevelopment agency have bought 16 lots, nearly half of the phase one area needed. Changes to the eminent domain law in May and the rising costs of land have complicated the process.

CRA members will consider today requesting proposals from developers on the first two phases of the Heart of Boynton area along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, from Seacrest to U.S. 1.

Commissioner Mack McCray, who represents the northeast district, said the master developer will be faced with acquiring all properties the city and CRA couldn't obtain.

"It was going to be astronomical," McCray said if the city had continued with the lawsuits. "The developers should now pick up the costs. They will have to come in with some real hard plans and real hard dollars."

Vice Mayor Carl McKoy said the community's opposition to the eminent domain process is one reason he voted to end the litigation.

"This really comes down to listening to what the people in the community have said," McKoy said. "They don't want the city to take what's theirs."

The Rev. E.J. Maddox of Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ, on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Seacrest, refused to sell his lot because there was no other place for the church to go in the neighborhood.

"They were trying to take our property that's been in this community for decades and give it to a private developer without giving us the benefit of deciding. All of sudden we the people in this community, our voices were null and void," Maddox said.

McKoy said the city could have faced five to six years of court appeals if the lawsuits had gone ahead and the commission's action will let the project move forward.

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