By Mary Hladky

In an effort to end protracted litigation over a now-repealed ordinance and a blocked effort by a landowner to build a single-family home on the beach, the City Council has authorized their attorneys to attempt to resolve the cases.
Council members voted unanimously on Jan. 24 to make “offers of judgment,” which under the federal rules of civil procedure can be used to encourage case settlements.
One case involves a 2017 city ordinance that prohibited the use of conversion therapy on minors.
Many other cities and counties have passed similar ordinances, including Palm Beach County, whose ordinance was also challenged.
Conversion therapy seeks to change a person’s sexual identity or sexual orientation. It is denounced by many professional medical organizations for causing depression, hopelessness and suicide.
After a heated legal battle, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the city’s and county’s ordinances unconstitutionally violated the free-speech rights of two Palm Beach County therapists, and the full court declined to reconsider that decision.
The city and county decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court out of concerns that an adverse ruling there would jeopardize other conversion therapy bans in cities and counties outside the 11th Circuit’s jurisdiction.
The city and county quickly repealed their ordinances to forestall additional litigation.
But that failed to end the legal brawling. The case was remanded to the U.S. District Court, where the therapists are aggressively pursuing an amended lawsuit.
Under the offer, the city would pay Robert Otto of Boca Raton $50,000 and Julie Hamilton of Palm Beach Gardens $25,000, and a portion of their attorney’s fees.
Helene Hvizd, the County Attorney’s Office appellate practice chief, declined to say if the county would make a similar offer, noting the county does not comment on pending litigation.
Otto and Hamilton are represented by Liberty Counsel, whose website says the firm is “advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family through strategic litigation.”
Attorneys representing the therapists did not return a call for comment on the offer.
In the second case, Natural Lands LLC has long wanted to build a 48-foot-tall, 8,666-square-foot single-family home on land it owns on the beach at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd.
The proposal caused a public outcry and prompted Jessica Gray, who then lived nearby, to found the group Boca Save our Beaches.
The City Council voted not to grant a variance allowing construction east of the city’s Coastal Construction Control Line on July 23, 2019.
Natural Lands sued in U.S. District Court. In its amended complaint filed in 2020, Natural Lands contends that over eight years, the city erected roadblocks and took action intended to defeat its efforts to build the house, including requiring repeated reviews of its variance application to cause delays and diminish the value of the land.
As a result, the land “has been stripped of all economic and beneficial value,” the suit says.
Natural Lands wants the court to determine that the city has taken its property without just compensation, determine the proper compensation and award it, along with attorney’s fees and costs.
The suit also contends that Mayor Scott Singer and council members Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte made statements that they would not approve a variance, but did not recuse themselves from casting votes.
The city’s offer would pay Natural Lands $950,000, with that amount including Natural Lands’ attorney’s costs and fees, and Natural Lands would deed the land to the city. The lawsuit states that Natural Lands paid $950,000 for the property in 2011.
Natural Lands attorney Keith Poliakoff did not return a call seeking comment on the offer.

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