Anti-Growth Amendment Pressed in Florida

Published September 1, 2009

Anti-growth advocates have received permission to place on the 2010 Florida ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to strip local planning boards, supervisors, and commissioners of their right to approve changes in comprehensive local development plans.

If the amendment passes, every proposed change in a local development plan anywhere in Florida will have to be approved by voters in a formal election.

The new policy is being pushed by Florida Hometown Democracy, a group dedicated to slowing the rate of growth in the state and overturning what its members see as an unfair political atmosphere that favors developers over the environment.

Signatures Can’t Be Withdrawn

Hometown Democracy had to fight to bring its proposal, now called Amendment 4, to the ballot. The group labored for several years to collect the required number of signatures to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. By the time the group obtained enough signatures, many had changed their minds and withdrawn their support.

The Florida Supreme Court rescued the proposed amendment, striking down a state law that allowed people to withdraw their signatures from such petitions.

Too Much Growth?

“Basically, our position is that developers have too much power in Florida,” said Hometown Democracy President Lesley Blackner. “We want to change the politics of growth in Florida. And besides, if your proposal is so great, what are you afraid of? Voters will just pass it.”

Blackner disputes widespread fears the amendment would halt economic development in the state.

“They’re assuming the voters are going to vote down everything,” Blackner said of the plan’s critics. “If voters like it, they’ll vote yes.”

Permanent Economic Downturn

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Association of Realtors, among other groups, see the proposal as a harsh restriction that will stop all growth and financially devastate Florida communities by inhibiting local governments from improving their tax bases.

“This would halt development at every step of the way,” said Marla Martin, communications manager for the Florida Association of Realtors. “If you’re a developer and have got something that’s even the slightest bit of a change to the comprehensive plan, it goes to a vote. And the voters may not even be educated on the changes.”

The impact of the proposal could be “to stop developments dead in their tracks,” Martin said.

Adam Babington, legislative counsel for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says his group opposes Amendment 4 because it would “make the current economic downturn in Florida permanent.”

Thousands of Annual Elections

Babington noted between 10,000 and 20,000 comprehensive plan amendment requests are brought before local boards across the state each year. If Amendment 4 passes, that would mean “each community will have to vote on 200 or 300 different items,” Babington said. That will make it difficult for voters to be fully informed about all the issues.

The Chamber of Commerce is concerned the proposal would convolute and complicate the process of development to the point where it’s essentially halted, draining local communities of economic resources needed to pay for all the elections and further cutting into funds for local government services.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 journalism fellow with The Phillips Foundation.