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November 25, 2015

Cover Story - Growth Planning

Who's Lesley Blackner?

Meet the woman whose ideas are hated by every business group in Florida.

Mike Vogel | 3/1/2007

The days of old: "I am nostalgic for the way it was when I was a kid before every road was five lanes, six lanes, wall-to-wall traffic. Everything I love about Florida is being lost or has been lost," says Hometown Democracy's Lesley Blackner.
Photo: Eileen Escarda

Tickled at the memory of her subterfuge, Lesley Blackner
recounts how she went under her married name to a real estate development trends conference in West Palm Beach in October.

Amid the real estate slowdown, as she tells it, the mood was hardly ebullient. Then, one speaker, in the course of remarks on land regulation in Florida, touched on an issue dear to Blackner's heart.

The proposed Florida Hometown Democracy constitutional amendment, the speaker said, was the "worst idea I've ever heard."

"They all just stood up and started clapping," recalls Blackner. "It was the only time I ever saw any kind of energy in the room. You know what? It was interesting to see the kind of reaction because I haven't seen how angry they are. It's like the end of the party as far as they're concerned. They've had it so good for so long."

Critics say Blackner ignores why we have representative democracy and would create land planning based on emotion rather than deliberation.

Blackner, who makes veins throb in the foreheads of developers across Florida, conceived that "worst idea," which for all the ire it rouses still has only a quarter of the voter signatures it needs to get on the 2008 ballot. Blackner's Hometown Democracy amendment calls for citizens to vote directly on whether to make changes in local "comprehensive" land-use plans, the binding plans that determine what kind of development goes where. Blackner's planning-by-plebiscite would revolutionize decision-making about growth in Florida, giving voters a veto over everything from new convenience stores to subdivisions. Whether it ever makes it onto the constitutional ballot, it already has inspired miniversions in a number of Florida cities.

Blackner, 45, seems the kind given to tilting at windmills, the one in college who rails against the status quo while everyone else wants to go out for a beer. A lawyer, she alternates between philosophical musings, such as "growth isn't even defined," and rhetorical bomb-throwing. She calls the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the state Legislature "the evil twins." Legislators are "those creeps." She has a sound bite -- "We have government of the developer by the developer and for the developer" -- but acknowledges a need for a more polished appearance as she ramps up her speaking engagements. "I've got to get my hair done and learn to do makeup," she says.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Environment, Government/Politics & Law, Housing/Construction

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