Be Careful What You Wish For

We doubt if we’d be going too far out on a limb by suggesting that no forward-thinking municipality in the country is completely dead set against development that is both responsible and responsive to the best interests of its citizens.  It’s also doubtful that anyone would consciously vote to amend Florida’s constitution with the understanding that their vote—while potentially curbing some bad development—would have the unintended consequence of putting the brakes on virtually all development. But that’s effectively what Amendment 4—if passed by Florida voters—will do.

That’s why we unite with so many other concerned citizens in urging you to vote “No” to Amendment 4 on Tuesday, November 2.

Amendment 4 offers a chainsaw approach—where a scalpel is needed—to address complex issues of growth.  In both politicizing and over-simplifying the process of refreshing a community’s comprehensive land use plan, passage of Amendment 4 would charge the voter with critical choices based on tiny ballot descriptions; instead of the hundreds of pages of detailed documentation that presently informs such key decisions.  In other words, we are suddenly asking voters to undertake the “heavy lifting” that we typically assign to our elected officials.  Under Amendment 4, even the slightest modification to a community’s land-use plan would necessitate a costly and time consuming voter referendum.

So obvious is the potential for negative fallout from Amendment 4 that even long-time foes of reckless development, including Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton—whose record of opposing over-development and protecting the environment is lengthy and beyond reproach—said they can’t imagine cramming such potentially important issues into confusing 75-word descriptions, just to get them officially on to ballots.

According to the St. Petersburg Times—whose editorial page just came out strongly against Amendment 4—the so-called “Hometown Democracy” amendment must sound irresistible to voters fed-up with enduring urban sprawl and gridlock while irresponsible legislators gut growth management laws.  Plus, what red-blooded American would oppose a ballot proposition euphemistically entitled “Hometown Democracy?”

Voters may honestly believe that Amendment 4 will advance democracy by empowering them to put a lid on undesirable development.  Instead, Amendment 4 will worsen matters by allowing haphazard development, will shift more influence to moneyed special interests, spawn expensive lawsuits and undercut Florida’s recovery from the recession.  No state is perfect at managing growth, but this approach is not the answer.

Passage of Amendment 4 will not empower residents so inclined to halt development in their communities.  Citizens will only vote on projects that require a revision to their community’s comprehensive land use plan. Projects designed within the existing parameters of the plan—typically most of them—would still be subject to government approval only.

If passed, Amendment 4 will discourage responsible developers from pursuing any worthwhile project that requires a comprehensive plan amendment, even projects a community might be very anxious to pursue.  Moreover, it will lengthen the approval process and increase a developer’s costs and risk.  Those whose projects survive the lengthy government approval process could easily have to wait another two years before voters have the opportunity to weigh-in at the next scheduled election.

Even then, the voters might say no; which makes it easy to see why developers might opt to cut their losses now and export their projects to other states.  This would not only imperil Florida’s recovery from this current recession but also sabotage future efforts to compete for worthwhile projects that inject jobs and tax revenues into a community.

Alas, the citizens of St. Pete Beach are all too painfully aware of what happens when responsibility for complex planning decisions is thrust upon the voters.  Their community is the closest thing Florida has to a test city for such regulations. To date, the measure—which was passed in 2006—has decimated their economy, created chaos at the polls, and caused a proliferation of special interest lawsuits that have cost the citizens nearly $750,000 in legal fees.   When the voters of St. Pete Beach approved four pro-economy changes to their comprehensive plan in 2008, Amendment 4 lawyers immediately sued to overturn the results.  Nearly two years later, the people of St. Pete Beach are still defending their vote in court; with the St. Petersburg Times concluding that Amendment 4 “invites short-term thinking and frequent referendums that are more susceptible to well-financed campaigns by powerful interests.”

To the voters of St. Pete Beach, Amendment 4-type regulations sounded like the perfect panacea to curb questionable development.  Instead, it’s become a recurring municipal nightmare that makes the perfect case for being very careful what you wish for.  Don’t let their nightmare become ours.  Please vote “No” on Amendment 4.

Note:  Early voting takes place October 18th through October 31st.  You can still register to vote through Monday, October 4.  For more information on voting in Sarasota County visit SarasotaElections.com.  In Manatee County, visit VoteManatee.com; and in Charlotte County, visit CharlotteVotes.com.
  • User Gravatar George Niemann
    September 29th, 2010

    You sound like a developer talking. You’re reading right from the developer’s handbook. When Amendment 4 passes, developers will follow the growth plans. They’ll have to and eventually they’ll get used to it. We always hear threats that developers we’ll move elsewhere if we don’t give them their way. That’s BS and everyone knows it. Florida has the lowest labor rates and favorable business tax rates so stop saying the sky’s gonna fall. It’s just not true, It’s scare tactics, plain and simple. And BTW, you don’t have change a growth plan to build anything. Developers constantly change them because it’s relatively easy to do so and they can build where they want instead of where the plan wants them to build. It’s laughable that the special interests who caused most of the economic problems we are experiencing are now claiming that if citizens have a say in growth plan changes, the economy will suffer. We have enough designated space for everything in the existing plans and it’s nonsense to suggest that no one can build anything. What’s more puzzling is why the real estate people are buying into the developers lies. You real estate people are stuck with trying to sell the overproduction, as well as, the boom and bust cycles. You don’t have to drink the kool-aid and it doesn’t make sense for you to support the lies. We will have growth again but we need to involve the people who have to pay for growth and live with the resulting quality of life, or lack thereof. The real estate industry should want to have communities involved in the decision making. You will end up with more sensible production and better inventory control. The answer is not to keep building and avoid following the rules and common sense. Let those of us who must pay for growth have a seat at the table.

  • User Gravatar Sheila Meeks
    September 30th, 2010

    Totally agree with your comments

  • User Gravatar A. David Rossin
    October 3rd, 2010

    On Friday I sent the following letter to the H-T. Don’t hold your breath!

    I lived in CA. Citizen initiatives were used to get the Legislature off the hook or for some selfish people who wanted to get attention.
    * * * * *
    To the Editor – –

    It seems like important news that Ms. Blackner has a “cause” and Eric Ernst thinks that maybe her Amendment 4 might be good. Perhaps it could be. Maybe it could save the citizens and taxpayers some money.

    Why should we need to elect and pay county or municipal officials? Why pay staff people to develop the information on which they would make decisions? Just have the people do it. That would be us!

    Sometimes less than half of us show up to vote. And some of us don’t want to decide hard questions or face up to civic issues that require long-term investments of public funds. Only a small fraction of us read enough to understand both sides of issues. Some of us depend on a single loud voice on TV.

    But maybe we could save money on all those offices and salaries.

    – – Dave Rossin

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