By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
RIVIERA BEACH —
Ducking under mangroves to reach the Intracoastal Waterway, Fane Lozman spreads his arms wide as he contemplates living on a narrow strip of land on Singer Island that most believed would never be developed.
“How can you beat his view?” he asks with a grin, gesturing toward the open blue water.
His grin is more than a little bit impish.
More than a year after he clobbered Riviera Beach by persuading the U.S. Supreme Court that the city illegally seized and destroyed his so-called houseboat, the 53-year-old self-made millionaire is back rattling city cages, trying to put that landmark decision into action.
He plunked down $24,000 this year for 29 acres of submerged land and about a third-acre of upland on the western shore of Singer Island. The pristine, mostly underwater property, will one day be home to a 60-foot-long floating home – a famous one that served as Frank Sinatra’s base of operations in the forgettable 1960 detective movie, “Lady in Cement,” he says.
But there’s more. Lozman wants neighbors. “My plan is to develop this into an upscale floating home community,” he says.
To the further chagrin of city officials, the man who has been a thorn in their sides since he moved to Riviera Beach roughly eight years ago is no longer a one-man wrecking crew.
Daniel Taylor, a 53-year-old Riviera Beach native, has recently reignited his family’s decades-long battle with the city for the right to use his submerged land as well. He, too, says it would be the perfect spot for a floating home.
With a nod to Lozman’s successful seven-year legal battle with the city, Taylor recently attached a name to his patch of land along the Intracoastal Waterway. He calls it “Lozman’s Cove.”
“I thought it was a heroic deed and I like the underdog,” he said, explaining why he honored Lozman by posting the street sign inside a fenced in area he turned into a picnic area for occasional parties.
Like Lozman, he said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision paves the way for him to use the 2 acres of submerged land he owns that extends from his private picnic area.
The court ruled that without an engine, hull, bilges or any of the usual accoutrements of a boat the structure Riviera Beach officials towed away from the city marina in 2009 was not a vessel, but a floating home. Therefore, it ruled, the city erred when it used admiralty law to seize and destroy Lozman’s home.
“Not every floating structure is a ‘vessel,’” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the decision of the case that Chief Justice John Roberts called one of his favorites. “To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not ‘vessels,’ even if they are ‘artificial contrivances’ capable of floating.”
With that decision in hand, Taylor sprung into action. He applied to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to build a 214-foot-long dock, with an 8-by-20-foot platform, to reach his future floating home. The agency signed off on behalf of the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
However, when Taylor went to the city, it refused to give him a permit to build a dock. So, he filed suit.
City officials didn’t return phone calls to comment on the lawsuit or anything involving Taylor’s and Lozman’s quests to use their property. However, in emails and letters, they make it clear they aren’t going to allow the two to put floating homes in the Intracoastal.
“I spoke with the city of Riviera Beach attorney (Pamala) Ryan, she told me Riviera Beach will never issue a permit for Lozeman (sic) or anyone to build a dock along A1A on Lake Worth lagoon in that area,” according to an email a DEP staffer wrote to a higher up.
In response, Ryan wrote that what she really said was that docks can only be built on property where a building exists or has been permitted.
“Docks are accessory uses in the city per code and a floating home that is in the water is not a land based structure,” she wrote in an email. “If someone could get a permit to build a house on this sensitive property (which is highly unlikely I’m told), the owner could then apply for a permit to build a house.”
However, Taylor and his attorney counter that there are countless places in the city where docks have been allowed on vacant lots. There is one nearby that extends into the same sensitive waterway, Taylor said.
Further, his attorney Jim Ryan said, in deciding that what once were called houseboats are floating homes, the nation’s high court opened the door for floating homes to be considered what the code calls “principal residential structures.”
“The recognition that the homes weren’t vessels is huge,” he said.
Some attorneys familiar with the dispute said they expect Riviera Beach to argue that the city’s comprehensive plan prohibits lengthy docks from being built along that stretch of Singer Island. However, Jim Ryan said, in a 2003 legal dispute with Taylor’s family, the city argued it would honor the land’s zoning – which allows 5 units an acre – despite what the city’s land use plan says. The city can’t now take the opposite position, he said.
Instead of just saying no, the city should look at what Taylor plans to do with the land his family has been paying taxes on since the 1970s, Jim Ryan says. Taylor isn’t asking to fill the underwater land with dirt. All Taylor wants is to build a dock to reach a single floating home.
“There’s no detrimental impact on mangroves. The dock is of nominal size so wouldn’t hurt the sea grasses,” he said. “It’s the most green, the most environmentally sensitive, way to make use of the property.”
While there are about two dozen others who own submerged land along Singer Island, he said most couldn’t get similar permits because they don’t own enough upland to satisfy parking and other requirements.
Lozman says because he owns more acreage than Taylor he could accommodate more than one floating home – possibly as many as 40.
For inspiration, he is looking south to North Miami Beach where a Dutch company is trying to get permission to create an island of multi-million-dollar floating homes in man-made lake that is connected to the Intracoastal just north of Haulover Inlet. The company, Dutch Docklands International, is planning what it calls “floating developments” all over the world.
“These floating homes will be a lot nicer than those houses on Pine Point Road,” Lozman said, referring to a street on Singer Island where houses are built on fill over what was once part of the Intracoastal Waterway. “It would be fun. It would be a destination.”
So far, he has not filed for a dock permit. But, he said, the city can’t deny him and Taylor their ability to use their land unless they want to pay them millions for it. “We’ll get our docks,” he promised.
And, in case city officials forgot who they’re dealing with, he has a sign ordered for his waterfront property. It will read: “Home of Fane Lozman. U.S. Supreme Court winner.”