Thousands Uprooted?

There’s good reason the Washington Times called Riviera Beach’s proposed redevelopment plan “one of the biggest eminent domain actions ever.”[1] That’s because Mayor Michael Brown and other city officials plan to condemn 2,200 homes by eminent domain, bulldoze them, and replace the predominantly black, blue-collar community on Florida’s beautiful coastline with a wealthier one. If passed, the 400-acre “revitalization” project will displace more than 6,000 people—kicking the less wealthy working-class out for a new neighborhood of luxury houses, high-end condominiums, a boat basin for mega yachts, a man-made lagoon, and a multilevel garage for boats.[2]

“What they mean is that the view I have is too good for me, and should go to some millionaire,”[3] said Martha Babson, a painter and longtime resident whose house is slated to be among those taken by eminent domain.


The story began in May 2001, when the city commissioned a study that declared approximately one-third of Riviera Beach “blighted.” Under Florida law, and many other states, the local government can seize private property for economic development if the land meets the overly broad “blight” criteria claimed by the state.

To debunk the blight findings, one resident took it upon herself to conduct her own analysis. After walking the streets camera-in-hand, Babson—a Castle Coalition activist who attended the 2002 Eminent Domain Conference—discovered considerable errors in the official study.

Among them, Babson found that lots inventoried as “vacant” had single-family homes built on them, that a “dilapidated” house was merely two years old, and that the city’s standards include taking any property that is “in the best interest of public health, safety, morals and welfare”—in other words, practically any property at all. [4]

Riviera Beach is one of the few remaining waterfront neighborhoods that is still affordable to working-class families. It epitomizes the fact that one need not be exceptionally wealthy to own a home with an ocean view. Rene and David Corie bought their two-bedroom American Dream in 1997 at a price of $70,000 precisely because Riviera Beach is so affordable. They are well aware that so-called just compensation just isn’t enough to buy a comparable piece of property on the Florida coast and that’s exactly why they’re doing everything possible to keep their beloved castle.[5]

Unfortunately, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for eminent domain abuse by affirming Kelo, Riviera Beach began moving forward with its proposed redevelopment plan. Mayor Brown, echoing the same words spouted by defenders of eminent domain for private development nationwide, continues to claim that his project aims to increase tax revenue and create jobs. With his support, the City Council agreed in September 2005 to pursue a joint venture between an American yacht company and an Australian condominium developer, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, which will serve as master developer once a final contract is crafted.[6]


As Riviera Beach pushes its abusive plan forth, nearly one-fifth of the city’s population faces threats of eminent domain. These hardworking Floridians live under a cloud of condemnation that, if implemented, will uproot thousands of families and destroy hundreds of small businesses. These are the properties that characterize the coastal neighborhood, ranging from small boating operations to locally owned restaurants.

The City has shown its willingness to shatter the dreams and livelihoods of 6,000 citizens, trampling their fundamental right to keep what they rightfully own. Homeowners have responded by staging a number of rallies and protests. They have written their elected officials and submitted letters to their neighborhood papers, all in the hope of saving a community they only want to continue calling home.

In her dissenting opinion to Kelo v. City of New London, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “The fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.”[7]

That’s exactly what’s happening in Riviera Beach—and Americans deserve better. 

[1] Joyce Howard Price, “Florida city considers eminent domain,” Washington Times, Oct. 3, 2005.

[2] John-Thor Dahlburg, “An Eminent Domain High Tide,” Los Angeles Times – Miami Bureau, Nov. 29, 2005, at A12.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dennis Cauchon, “Pushing the limits of ‘public use,’” USA Today, Mar. 31, 2004.

[6] John-Thor Dahlburg, “An Eminent Domain High Tide,” Los Angeles Times – Miami Bureau, Nov. 29, 2005, at A12.

[7] Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 2005 (Justice O’Connor’s Dissent).