A New Smyrna Beach-based initiative called Florida Hometown Democracy hopes to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2004 ballot that would require local voters to approve, by referendum, changes to a city or county's comprehensive land-use plan. Doing so, organizers say, would remove some of the political influence developers wield and help change the economic focus from "growth" to "smart growth."
"People are sick and tired of being treated as they have been treated by their elected officials -- to the detriment of their communities," says Barbara Herrin, one of the organizers of the group.
Local officials have routinely used their power to change land-use plans. Since 2000, for example, Orange County has amended its plan 87 times -- and the amendment's backers are quick to blame the commissioners for what they say is runaway growth that is choking the ability of communities and the environment to cope.
Opponents point to the fact that real estate and construction accounts for about 47% of Florida's economy and say the amendment will create economic chaos.
In addition, they say, housing prices and commercial rents will escalate.
"We have not yet adopted an official position on it, but many of our legislative committee members are very concerned. Their sentiment would be to oppose it," says Gene Adams, vice president for governmental affairs for the Florida Association of Realtors. "We feel like the economic harm would be far greater than we can bear."
Adams adds that holding continual referendums would be expensive, not only because of the need to staff polling places but also because developers and neighborhood groups would be forced to campaign for their positions. Besides, he says, the change may not even be necessary.
"(The referendum's) position is that representative government is doing a bad job and therefore we have to turn it over to the people. I don't make that leap of logic," Adams says.
"Economic development is equated with construction," counters Palm Beach County lawyer Lesley Blackner, another of the referendum's organizers. "The problem is that we're building communities nobody likes."
And so Florida Hometown Democracy's 600 volunteers plug away, garnering nearly 6,000 signatures in their first month and aiming for 50,000 to warrant a Supreme Court review of the referendum this fall and 500,000 for a place on the ballot next year.
While the group doesn't have much money, it does have a game plan. After all, says Herrin, "Good planning is what good growth management is all about."
IN THE NEWS
Cape Canaveral -- Video Display Corp. received a $3.4-million order from Boeing to build displays for Air Force F-15, F-16 and T-38 flight simulators.
Daytona Beach -- The Volusia County Council agreed to kick in $500,000 for an oceanfront park near the Main Street Pier. A combination of grants, donations and land swaps has generated the bulk of the $10.8 million the city needs for the project, but it is still searching for another $2.3 million.
Halifax Medical Center plans to buy 230 acres on LPGA Boulevard, where it will build a hospital complex. The move must still be approved by the state. Taxpayers aren't expected to foot any of the bill. The move would be made in stages as the new campus is completed and could begin as early as 2004.
Deland -- General Dynamics will move the manufacturing operations for its chemical and biological detectors to Charlotte, N.C., and its resin transfer molding production to Virginia, leading to the relocation of about 320 workers. The company also says it will sell its vehicle electronic components division, which employs about 50.
TeleTech Holdings has laid off about 200 workers after completing contracts for General Electric and Home Depot.
Deltona -- The city paid $59.5 million for the water utility system of Florida Water Services.
Melbourne -- Indian River Beverage Corp. reported its John J. Kelly's Traditional Irish Hard Cider won first place at the North American Brewer's Association competition for the second consecutive year.
Citizen complaints about noise have brought an end to AeroGroup's plans to develop a training program for foreign military pilots. The company had a contract to train Dutch F-16 pilots, but within a few weeks hundreds of local residents signed petitions against the project.
Orange County -- The Orange County Convention Center plans to open its $750-million expansion in late November at a private party that may cost $300,000 -- which will be paid by sponsors.
Orlando -- Bags Inc., partnering with Rosen Hotels & Resorts and ARINC Inc. of Maryland, has developed a remote baggage check-in system that will allow some tourists to check their bags at their hotel, where the bags will be secured, screened by the Transportation Security Administration and delivered to the traveler's airplane. Currently the system has only been TSA-approved for guests of the Rosen Center who are traveling on American, Continental, Delta or United Airlines, but the company plans to expand to more locations and more airlines.
The high traffic intersection of Orange Blossom Trail and Sand Lake Road will soon get busier. Ram Development of Palm Beach Gardens announced a plan to replace a vacant auto parts factory with a 192,000-sq.-ft. retail center.
A Universal Orlando reorganization has left a handful of senior managers without jobs, including the company's vice president of staffing and administration, the senior vice president of food service and the director of catering. The company did not release a complete list of changes or the number of people affected by the reorganization.
Baldwin Park, a neo-traditional community being built on the former naval training center near downtown Orlando, reported selling nearly 300 homes in the first half of the year, worth about $90 million, or an average of $300,000.
The Bank of New York is planning to add about 350 positions in its securities accounting and processing operations in Lake Mary and east Orlando over the next two years.
The Mall at Millenia has appointed Frank Couzo as marketing manager, replacing Rocell Melohn, who resigned in June.
San Diego-based Cubic Corp. agreed to buy defense contractor ECC International for $5.25 a share, or about $42 million.
Discount airline JetBlue says it will build a $160-million flight training center and maintenance facility at Orlando International Airport. The airline will share the 150-worker facility with its LiveTV subsidiary.
Port Canaveral -- Civil and Marine Inc., a British company that specializes in recycling byproducts from iron and steel fabrication into a material that improves concrete, will build a $30-million slag processing plant at Port Canaveral.
Sanford -- Canadian airline Jetsgo has begun non-stop service between Sanford and Toronto on 160-seat Boeing MD-83s.