An open road for redevelopment

December 2006 » Feature Articles
The sensitive issue of eminent domain has become a hot topic in Palm Beach County, Fla., especially in the city of Riviera Beach.
Heather Hetherington

Project
Port of Palm Beach, Fla., roadway

Civil engineer
SFRN, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Project summary
Development of a gateway entrance to a new cruise ship terminal required coordinated efforts to obtain property rights and avoid legal delays.

Port of Palm Beach demonstrates how a public project requiring property condemnation can proceed with minimal problems.

The sensitive issue of eminent domain has become a hot topic in Palm Beach County, Fla., especially in the city of Riviera Beach. Stories about eminent domain and the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have been featured everywhere, from local newspapers to the prime time news.

Not quite a year ago, the Port of Palm Beach (Port), in collaboration with the CRA and Palm Beach County, successfully completed an $11 million roadway project, which included securing appropriate compensation and relocation for residents on more than 40 parcels of land. The project was completed on time and on budget, with no negative publicity and minimal disruption to residents.

In late 2000, the Port began construction of a new, 100,000-square-foot cruise ship terminal and maritime office. "The new cruise terminal was part of the $100 million port expansion plan," said Tom Lundeen, the Port's engineer at the time of the project. "The plan was designed to bring in more cruise ships, more passengers, and more opportunities."

The Port's expansion plan was also part of the CRA's Master Redevelopment Plan for 700 acres within the city. "The cruise terminal project was a partnership between the Port, the city of Riviera Beach, and Palm Beach County," said Lundeen.

"The Port also desired to construct a gateway entrance and main thoroughfare to serve as the main routes for vehicles traveling to and from the new terminal," said Keith Jackson, P.E., a vice president at SFRN, Inc., a civil engineering firm located in West Palm Beach, Fla., which was selected to design the project. "The project included reconstruction and widening of 13th Street, 11th Street, and Avenue C in the city of Riviera Beach. The Port wanted something that was not only functional, but also aesthetically pleasing."

One of the first major challenges that the design team faced on this project was coordinating with the CRA's new alignment of 13th Street. "SFRN had prepared a Preliminary Engineering Report for the Port, which outlined the project's permitting, utility, railroad, and construction issues," said Jackson. "When the alignment of 13th Street was changed, we then had to coordinate with the CRA to incorporate the new alignment into the project's design."

Jackson said that the original alignment of 13th Street was a straight line, but because of the CRA's Master Redevelopment Plan for the waterfront near the Port, an area known as Harbor Village, the alignment was changed and curves were added.

"This new curvilinear alignment passed through residential and commercial properties, therefore, a decision was made by the Port to purchase these properties to accomplish the roadway construction," said Jackson.

To handle purchasing of the new right-of-way, the Port assembled a team comprised of Robert Banting of Anderson & Carr, a local appraisal firm; Greg Picken, Esq., of Gary Dietrich & Ryan, the Port Counsel since 1998; and Dee Primm, a relocation expert who was the Port's representative to the community during this project.

According to Florida statute, before an eminent domain proceeding is brought, the condemning authority must attempt to negotiate in good faith with the owner of the parcel to be acquired. The condemning authority must provide the parcel owner a written offer based on an appraisal of the property and must attempt to reach an agreement regarding the amount of compensation to be paid for the parcel.

Picken said it was important to the Port for the property owners to be compensated appropriately. "Robert Banting's firm was key to fair appraisals," he noted. "The Port has a relocation program intended to fairly compensate for relocation and other expenses. The Port's Board of Commissioners was familiar with the condemnation process and appointed a single commissioner, Wayne Richards, to review settlements and recommend them. We met with the property owners and their representative, recommended a settlement, and did so with the knowledge that we would not be second-guessed by the Board."

Many parcels contained rental units. That is where Dee Primm came in. "She worked on the relocation of the [tenants] and trying to help them start over," said Lundeen.

"Dee Primm's community outreach was invaluable," said Picken. "Much of the success of the project and any positive community relations were due to her efforts."

"All of the right-of-way purchases were successfully negotiated and further legal proceedings were avoided," said Jackson. "This project is an example of what we can do when everyone pulls together."

In some cases, the project was designed so that a "partial take" could be utilized. A "partial take" occurs when the entire property is not needed to construct the roadway and a usable portion remains. This was effective on several properties, including one with a pool and another with two rental units.

Eminent domain was not the only challenge SFRN and its team faced as a result of the new alignment of 13th Street. The new CRA alignment required relocation of multiple utilities, water, and sewer mains, and expansion of an FEC Railway crossing at the intersection of 13th Street and Old Dixie Highway.

"We had to coordinate with over six different utility companies throughout this project," Jackson said. "We held weekly project coordination meetings with the Port, the city, and representatives from the different utility companies to help us manage the project and address problems as they arose."

After completing the design and coordinating with the necessary utilities, SFRN began applying to the multiple governmental agencies that required permits for this project. "It was during this [permitting] process that we learned of the Indian Midden located on a portion of Avenue C," said Jackson. Middens are mounds or deposits containing shells, animal bones, and other refuse that indicate the site of an ancient native settlement.

Despite all these issues, construction on the project began in the summer of 2002 and ended when the project was certified complete by Jackson on Sept. 28, 2005.

"The project was completed on time and on budget, despite the two hurricanes we experienced in 2004," Jackson said. "This project represents what can be accomplished when three entities work together toward a common goal, with a mutual respect for the property owners' rights." 

Heather Hetherington is a marketing assistant for SFRN, Inc., a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based multidisciplinary consulting firm that offers civil engineering, surveying, mapping, and GIS services. She can be contacted at hhetherington@sfrninc.com.


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