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Hometown Democracy vs. the Anti-Amendment

The Arena

" ... before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, such proposed plan or plan amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum ... "

Local comprehensive land-use plans — documents typically hundreds of pages long — detail everything from allowable building heights to deed restrictions on historic properties.

Amendment 4 boxing match
On the left, in the Pro-Amendment corner, Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner
On the right, in the Anti-amendment corner, Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce

[Illustration: Robert Zammarchi; photographs: Eileen Escarda left; Ray Stanyard right]
A sample from Miami-Dade County's comprehensive plan: "Open Land Subarea 1 (Snake-Biscayne Canal Basin). This subarea is located north of the Miami Canal (Canal-6) in northwestern Miami-Dade County. Rural residential use at one dwelling unit per five acres, limestone quarrying and ancillary uses, compatible institutional uses, public facilities, utility facilities, and communications facilities, recreational uses and seasonal agriculture may be considered for approval in this subarea. Uses that could compromise groundwater quality shall not occur west of the Turnpike Extension."

Currently, if a local government wants to change the plan, the proposal goes through the municipality's planning department, public hearings, approval by the elected board and, for a property of any size, to the state Department of Community Affairs for approval. If Amendment 4 passes, changing such plans to allow subdivisions or condo buildings would have to go before voters, but so would tiny changes. This year, for instance, a property owner in the Snake-Biscayne Canal Basin area in Miami-Dade wanted to change the land-use plan to allow tree farms and nurseries there.

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Proposed Amendments:
1998-2008

See how every proposed amendment to Florida's constitution has fared through the years.

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Pro-Amendment

Principals: Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner and Tallahassee lawyer Ross Burnaman

War chest: Blackner's spent $740,000 of her own money to get the amendment to the ballot. Her group has raised $1.54 million and has spent $1.53 million of it. Aside from Blackner, the biggest contributor is Steve Rosen, owner of a Broward skin products company, who has given $585,000.

Backers: The Sierra Club of Florida, the Save the Manatee Club and a long list of smaller groups focused on the environment, neighborhood protection or population control.

Punch

Backers of the amendment say the amendment won't stop growth. But, they say, the prospect of having to face voters will force property owners and elected officials to consider fewer changes and develop within existing comp plans rather than amend them willy-nilly. Developers, says Blackner, no longer will be able to build wherever they wish without citizen approval. Boxing glovesBy one count, existing comp plans already would allow a state population of 100 million, she adds. Burnaman says voters won't have to approve every textual and plan change, just those dealing with future land uses.

"We just had a decade of giving the development industry everything they wanted, and they crashed the economy. They're the ones who drove us over the cliff. Their greedy shortsightedness is really breathtaking."
— Lesley Blackner

Anti-Amendment

Principals: Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, an umbrella group organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Mark Wilson, the chamber's president and CEO, has led the chamber's overall effort.

War chest: The business group has raised $4.2 million and has spent $3.9 million of that.

Backers: Florida Chamber of Commerce, Realtor and home builder groups, prominent landholding family businesses such as Duda and Lykes, unions, municipal and county elected officials and administrators and school boards.

Counterpunch

Opponents foresee costly, time-consuming campaigns over development and piecemeal, ballot-driven planning rather than comprehensive planning. They say voters will face a deluge of ballot questions in the voting booth, having to vote on everything from routine technical changes to matters involving huge, complicated developments. Boxing gloves Neighborhood revitalization plans, giant subdivisions and neighborhood convenience stores all will have to stand for up-or-down votes. The only winners will be the consultants hired to communicate a project to the public and the lawyers who negotiate the process.

"It ends up being a permanent recession for Florida."
— Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce


Side Effects

The proposed amendment already has had an effect. The Legislature made changes in the law on citizen-proposed amendments that will affect all future petition drives. And property owners have rushed to get comp-plan changes through in case Hometown Democracy becomes law. In 2007, a typical year, local governments sent the state Department of Community Affairs, which must approve larger comp-plan changes, 8,100 individual changes. As of mid-November 2009, DCA had received 14,000 individual changes.

Economic Atmosphere, Then and Now
When Amendment 4 was filed in 2003, economic conditions were quite different.

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2003 Now

Unemployment

5.1% 11.8%

Population

17 million 18.3 million

Value of Construction Starts

Starts in Florida $49.7 billion $26.5 billion
Source: McGraw-Hill Construction

Other Amendments

Five other amendment proposals will be on the November ballot:

  • One is a tax credit for deployed military.
  • One does away with public campaign financing for statewide office seekers.
  • One limits how fast assessed values on non-homestead property can increase and gives a homestead break to first-time home buyers.
  • Two try to end political party- or incumbent-driven gerrymandering in drawing legislative and congressional districts (see the article "Party Lines").