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Palm Beach Royal Poinciana Playhouse Referendum (2010)

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The Palm Beach Royal Ponicana Playhouse Referendum was a ballot measure was proposed to appear on a special election on the February 2, 2010 ballot in Palm Beach County, but was stalled in court. If enacted, the referendum would have prevented the demolition of Royal Poinciana Playhouse, a local theater.[1]

This measure has again been taken off the ballot and deemed invalid by a district judge. Petitioners planned to again appeal the court's decision.[2] An appeal was made for the court to reconsider it's previous ruling on the issue.[3]

New Attempt

Due to the first petition being stalled in court proceedings, the group has decided to try another petition drive, this time focusing on a group of historical building in the city. The proposed amendment to the charter would ensure that if any of the mentioned historical building were proposed to be demolished, that a city vote must first take place to see if residents agree with the demolishing. There are 264 building in the city that are marked as landmarks but city council spokesman said that the playhouse would just be de-landmarked and then would not be an issue. In order for this to be on the November 2 election, 800 signature will need to be collected.[4]

April 10, County officials stated that the petition submitted to them did not get the required number of valid signatures, with only 744 verified. Citizens were hoping to get this issue to a city vote, but they now are unable to reach that goal and plans to demolish the playhouse are still in the works.[5]

New efforts are petitioning to get this measure on to the November 2, 2010 ballot. This new petition drive is to amend the town charter so that voter approval would be needed before a historical building could be removed of its designation and demolished. 817 of 801 needed signatures were turned in to the clerk's office and the city council is set to debate the issue in June.[6]

June 3 will be the first public hearing of this issue, the Palm Beach Civic Association will host the meeting. Residents will get the chance to understand first hand what the issue is about, the historic sites the group wants to save and what issue they will be specifically voting on in November.[7]


A group named Preserve Palm Beach wanted the referendum passed to incorporate into the Town Charter portions of a 1979 property-use agreement that protects the Playhouse. A majority of town voters would then be required to approve changes to the 1979 agreement.[8]

The Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office stated that Preserve Palm Beach gathered enough petition signatures, 970, from the town's registered voters.

The group that organized the petition would use the playhouse as a regional theater where as if the referendum is not approved, the company that currently owns the property would demolish the playhouse, build a smaller theater and condominiums along with shops along the beach front.[9]

Court Case

The Town Council asked a judge to review the proposed ballot language after Town Attorney John Randolph cited vague wording that may conflict with state comprehensive planning law. The defendants listed are the Preserve Palm Beach group and founder Patrick Flynn. Without a judge's order blocking the referendum, the town will then have to place it on the ballot.

At a hearing on July 30, 2009, Palm Beach Circuit Judge David Crow heard arguments from Preserve Palm Beach attorneys. They insisted that in order for the ballot language to be reviewed, some of the more than 800 voters who signed the petition must be named as defendants. Otherwise, the court's decision would not be binding to the town's electorate.[10] A local judge will review the referendum currently, as of October 13, and if he rules in favor of the petition then it will appear on the February ballot. The only reason the town went against the petition, and took it to court, was to ensure its legality, says town attorney John Randolph.[9]

The judge ruled in favor of the city, stating that the ballot proposition was not constitutional. The group advocating the petition has taken the issue to the court of appeals in hope that the higher judge will overturn this ruling against them. They are going to argue that the judge got the law wrong. If the appeal goes through then the group would have to quickly draft the ballot language in order to make it for the January ballot deadline.[11] The judge also denied a motion that wanted to place a stay on his decision. Proponents of keeping the playhouse intact thought a stay was needed on his decision in order to ensure the city would not demolish the building, but the judge thought that if he put a stay in place he would be admitting his decision was wrong. They are still hoping the appeals court sides with them.[12]

This issue was up for review by the town council, it got pushed back to April 21. It was hoped that the issue would have been decided in April so that the planning of the new building could continue or halted depending on the outcome.[13] The council decided on the issue during its June 22 meeting, if they had approved the petition it would have gone ahead to the ballot.[14]

The council decided instead to submit the petition to the courts to decide if it was constitutional. The town attorney suggested to the council that the language may not be constitutionally correct. If the judge agrees the language is ok then the council would put it on a later meeting to place it on the November ballot.[15] A judge heard this case before October 5th, expedited so that there still would be time for it to be voted on in November.[16]

A further appeal made by proponents has led to the courts deciding to hear the case again on October 6th. Even if it could gain approval it would not be on the November ballot since the deadline has passed.[17] Arguments were heard on the appeal of this measure, but it was unclear when a decision will be made by the court.[18] The judge ruled that he would not re hear arguments on this issue though proponents affirmed that it would again be appealed.[19]


The Sterling Organization, which controls the theater under a long-term lease, proposes to demolish all but the eastern facade of the playhouse and build condominiums, a restaurant and waterfront park at the site. The organization also proposes to build a smaller theater on the 12-acre plaza site. Councilmembers seemed to be in agreement with upgrading the site where the theater currently stands.[20]

Additional reading

External links


  1. Palm Beach Daily News, "Town seeks ruling on Royal Poinciana Playhouse referendum," June 15, 2009 (dead link)
  2. Palm Beach Daily News, "Landmark demolition referendum unconstitutional, judge rules; to come off Nov. 2 ballot," August 26, 2010
  3. Palm Beach Daily News, "Preserve Palm Beach seeks rehearing in Playhouse referendum case," September 8, 2010
  4. Palm Beach Daily News, "Theater Guild PAC to launch petition drive, seek charter amendment protecting landmarks," January 15 (dead link)
  5. Palm Beach Daily News, "Preserve Palm Beach PAC petition signatures fall short, Bucher's office says," April 10, 2010
  6. Palm Beach Daily News, "Patrick Flynn's group gathers enough signatures to put Playhouse fate on ballot," May 9, 2010
  7. Palm Beach Daily News, "Civic Association to host symposium on landmarking referendum," May 28, 2010
  8. The Palm Beach Post, "Palm Beach Town Council might set date for playhouse protection referendum," June 4, 2009 (dead link)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Palm Beach Daily News, "Judge to hear case regarding Royal Poinciana Playhouse referendum," October 13, 2009 (dead link)
  10. Palm Beach Daily News, "Royal Poinciana Playhouse ballot hearing focuses on defendants," July 30, 2009
  11. Palm Beach Daily News, "Royal Poinciana Playhouse referendum ruling appealed by Preserve Palm Beach," December 4, 2009
  12. Palm Beach Daily News, "Royal Poinciana Playhouse referendum ruling stands; judge denies Preserve Palm Beach motion," December 23, 2009 (dead link)
  13. Palm Beach Daily News, "Landmarks commission defers Royal Poinciana Plaza review to April," February 17, 2010
  14. [ Palm Beach Daily News, "Preserve Palm Beach ballot question to go before council Tuesday," June 19, 2010
  15. Palm Beach Daily News, "Town to send referendum on landmark razing to court for constitutionality check," June 22, 2010
  16. Palm Beach Daily News, "Court to hear Preserve Palm Beach’s appeal of rejected referendum," August 17, 2010
  17. Palm Beach Daily News, "Preserve Palm Beach granted rehearing by judge who ruled landmarking referendum unconstitutional," September 16, 2010
  18. Palm Beach Daily News, "Appeals court hears challenge to Royal Poinciana Playhouse ruling," October 6, 2010
  19. Palm Beach Daily News, "Judge won't reverse ruling against Preserve Palm Beach referendum; Flynn promises appeal," October 21, 2010
  20. The Palm Beach Post, "Palm Beach council: Nostalgia won't save 50-year-old Royal Poinciana Playhouse from demolition," June 4, 2009 (dead link)