By Steve Plunkett
Boca Raton wants a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by a group seeking to invalidate an ordinance that reserves city-owned land along the Intracoastal Waterway for public uses only.
The suit by ForBoca.org Inc., whose leader is former Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce chief Mike Arts, “is filled with conclusory and inconsistent allegations,” the city says in a motion filed Jan. 30.
ForBoca.org calls the initiative ordinance city voters approved by a 2-1 margin Nov. 8 a “land development regulation” and a “development order” in its lawsuit.
“In fact, the Initiative Ordinance is neither,” the city says in its motion. “Instead it is an administrative directive establishing how the City will operate and manage its own lands and facilities in its proprietary capacity as a governmental landowner.”
Even if the ordinance were a development order, a challenge to its validity would be decided by an administrative law judge, not in circuit court, the motion says.
Circuit Judge Joseph Marx scheduled a hearing for 1:45 p.m. March 24 at the County Courthouse in West Palm Beach for both sides to present arguments.
“No one is going to tell you that your vote doesn’t matter,” City Council member Scott Singer told residents at a candidate forum last month. “That’s why I vigorously opposed the [ForBoca.org] lawsuit, and that’s why the city has filed a motion to dismiss.”
ForBoca.org Inc. says the ordinance limits the use of city land — and the Wildflower property in particular — in a way that is “wholly and patently inconsistent” with Boca Raton’s comprehensive plan. The ordinance also violates a state law that prohibits using an initiative or referendum process to change zoning, the group says.
But outside counsel Daniel Abbott and Adam Schwartzbaum argue in the city’s motion that ForBoca.org has no standing to make either claim because the group does not show it has suffered a “special injury” or that it was “substantially affected” by the ordinance.
In 2009 Boca Raton paid $7.5 million for the 2.3-acre Wildflower parcel, at the northwest corner of the Palmetto Park Road bridge over the Intracoastal. The city had been negotiating for several years to lease the parcel to the Hillstone Restaurant Group for a restaurant there, along with a waterside walkway open to the public.
In July the City Council changed the land-use designation of the northern part of the site from residential to commercial and rezoned it from single-family residential to local business district. The southern portion was already zoned local business.
Meanwhile, a petition drive that neighbors launched to overrule the plan gathered 700 more signatures than the 1,030 required and put the referendum question on the November ballot.
The vote was 29,378 in favor of keeping the land for public use only, 14,484 against.