Waterfront developer withdraws offer in Riviera Beach eminent-domain case: (S Florida) Sun-Sentinel, 6/2/06

By Associated Press

The developer of Riviera Beach's $2.4 billion waterfront project that could displace hundreds of residents has withdrawn 20 offers to purchase private property, a day after Gov. Jeb Bush expressed concern over the legality of the deal.

Bob Healey, chairman of Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, said the company is willing to continue negotiations with property owners on a voluntary basis.

``We're not going to pay a fortune for people's property,'' Healey said Thursday.

A day before Gov. Bush signed a restrictive eminent domain bill into law last month, Mayor Michael Brown called a special meeting so the city and Viking could sign a contract to develop the project that called for some residents to be removed from their properties if they refused to sell.

As part of the deal, the city agreed to use eminent domain to make way for the project. But the new law makes seizures of personal property for private use illegal.

Brown contends that since the contract was signed before the bill became law, the city is within its right to proceed.

Bush, however, claims the hastily called city meeting may have violated state Sunshine laws which call for advance public notice, making Viking's contract invalid.

Healey said his company is being blamed for removing residents from their homes.

``I don't want people to think we're the bad guys,'' he said, adding that the project will move forward and residents will be paid fair market value for their properties.

Bush has asked the state Attorney General's Office to investigate the contract. House Speaker Allan Bense said he has asked his general counsel's office to do the same.

``Hopefully between the (attorney general's) office and the governor's office and our legal counsel, maybe there's a way we can keep them from taking their people's property,'' Bense said.

Sun-Sentinel: http://www.sun-sentinel.com