Florida hometown democracy
Ever since developers started selling swamp land to unsuspecting Northerners, there has been an ongoing discussion about the overbuilding of Florida. On Nov. 2, Florida residents will be asked again to make a decision on this age old issue, in the form of a constitutional amendment.
Florida Hometown Democracy Land Use, Amendment 4, also known as Referenda Required for Adoption and Amendment of Local Government Comprehensive Land Use Plans will appear on the ballot. The initiative proposes to require a taxpayer-funded referendum for all changes to local government comprehensive land-use plans and will require 60 percent of the total votes to approve any changes.
The ballot summary will read; “Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice.”
That wording is of course typical ballot-speak, but what it boils down to is this. Currently, county and city commissioners make comprehensive plan decisions after proposed changes are reviewed by the local planning agency, and vetted by the public via public hearings.
After receiving input and recommendations from local government, planning staff and state agencies they make their decision. If Amendment 4 passes that decision making process will go directly to the voting public.
At first this may sound like a reasonable way to make decisions about the growth of a community by going directly to the people most affected. However, the logistics and practicality of handling every proposed comprehensive land use change, no matter how small or technical, in this manner has some not so reasonable consequences.
First of all as stated in the official financial impact statement of the amendment, the financial impact on local government expenditures cannot be estimated. There will be additional costs to conduct referenda in the form of ballot preparation, election administration, etc. Not to mention the poor voters attempting to assimilate the content and importance of what they’re reading in the voting booth.
But the critics of this amendment raise more perilous issues, primarily the potential inability to attract new business to a community. If every land use initiative had to be voted on by the electorate, uncertainty and multi-year delays to projects is inevitable, resulting in fewer jobs and less economic growth.
According to Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, “If you like the recession, you’ll love Amendment 4."
In 2006, the town of St. Pete Beach adopted a local version of Amendment 4, which has resulted in endless lawsuits with little progress.
The real estate industry, in particular, is concerned that managed growth will result in no growth; another nail in the coffin of Florida real estate struggling to get back on its feet.
The proponents of the amendment, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash among them, state that mismanaged growth destroys communities and that Amendment 4 will simply add another layer of protection against unwanted developments.
They further state that the amendment will level the playing field and give citizens the opportunity to vote on plans that affect them, putting an end to the habit of rubberstamping plan changes.
Anna Maria is certainly no stranger to discussions about comprehensive land use and managed growth, but it’s unlikely that this cumbersome and expensive amendment will work. We live in a country with a representative form of government. We elect people to vote on our behalf.
Imagine the insanity if every bill passing through Congress needed to be voted on by the general population. Nothing would ever get done, and then we would really be lost in the swamp.