RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — It's across the inlet from Palm Beach, but this town — mostly black, blue-collar and with a large industrial and warehouse district — could be a continent away from the Fortune 500 and Rolls-Royce set.
But Riviera Beach's fortunes may soon change.
In what has been called the largest eminent-domain case in the nation, the mayor and other elected leaders want to move about 6,000 residents, tear down their homes and use the emptied 400-acre site to build a waterfront yachting and residential complex for the well-to-do.
The goal, Mayor Michael D. Brown said during a public meeting in September, is to "forever change the landscape" in this municipality of about 32,500. The $1-billion plan, local leaders have said, should generate jobs and haul Riviera Beach's economy out of the doldrums.
Opponents, however, call the plan a government-sanctioned land grab that benefits private developers and the wealthy.
"What they mean is that the view I have is too good for me, and should go to some millionaire," said Martha Babson, 60, a house painter who lives near the Intracoastal Waterway.
"This is a reverse Robin Hood," said state Rep. Ronald L. Greenstein, meaning the poor in Riviera Beach would be robbed to benefit the rich. Greenstein, a Coconut Creek Democrat, serves on a state legislative committee making recommendations on how to strengthen safeguards on private property.
With many Americans sensitized to eminent-domain cases after a much-discussed ruling by the Supreme Court in June, property-rights organizations have been pointing to redevelopment plans in this Palm Beach County town as proof that laws must be changed to protect homeowners and businesses from the schemes of politicians.
"You have people going in, essentially playing God, and saying something better than these people's homes should be built on this property," said Carol Saviak, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights, based in Orlando. "That's inherently wrong."
"Unfortunately, taking poorer folks' homes and turning them into higher-end development projects is all too routine in Florida and throughout the country," said Scott G. Bullock, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, based in Washington. "What distinguishes Riviera Beach is the sheer scope of the project, and the number of people it displaces."