City acts to skirt eminent domain bill: Miami (FL) Herald, 5/12/06

A week after the Legislature approved a bill aimed at curbing local governments' use of eminent domain, the City Council here pushed ahead with a contract for a massive redevelopment project that could displace more than 5,000 residents.

Council members on Wednesday approved a contract with developer Viking Inlet Harbor Properties that they hope will protect the city's right to build the $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment, even if the use of eminent domain is necessary.

The move will likely now pit the city against state lawmakers who stripped municipalities like Riviera Beach from using its eminent domain powers to seize personal property to hand over to private developers.

''We know our enemy is now the Legislature,'' said Mayor Michael Brown, who insists the project will benefit all residents in this downtrodden town, even those who may be displaced.

Gov. Jeb Bush has not yet signed the bill into law.

Riviera Beach officials claim that the Legislature's actions violate their constitutional right under a clause that lawmakers cannot interfere with an existing contract, and that they should be exempted from the restrictive bill.

''Governor Bush intends to sign the legislation as soon as he receives it,'' Bush spokesman Russell Schweiss said Thursday. ``It is important to protect Floridians from having their property taken away from them by local governments, only to then have it given away to a private developer for their profit.''

Schweiss did not address how the city's hasty contract approval may affect the overall protections.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Bruce Rogow, a constitutional law expert, said Riviera Beach may have acted just in time.

''It's not a law until the governor signs it,'' Rogow said.

Miami Herald: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald