Citizens to Vote on Florida Home Town Democracy
By Anne McKay Garris
Recently, the term Florida Hometown Democracy has developers, local government officials and planning directors, not to mention a number of lawyers, mumbling to themselves and frantically formulating ways to stop it. Although it has been around since 2007, Florida Hometown Democracy reappeared in the headlines this week when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that this proposed change to the Florida Constitution could be on the ballot in 2010. While developers, government officials and realtors complain that the proposed measure would, "stop growth and bring Florida to a standstill, not to mention cause a financial disaster," its proponents argue that it "will let the people decide if they want another enormous development paving over the wilderness area near them."
If it had been in place last year, for instance, it would have given the people of Clearwater a chance to vote whether or not they wanted the motel density on Clearwater Beach to be more than doubled.
In spite of the rhetoric by opponents of the measure, the Florida Hometown Democracy amendment will not require a vote every time someone wants to put an addition on their building. It will, however, require a vote before there are any changes to the city or county's Comprehensive Plan. This is a document which determines the where, how, and when, a city will develop. Each local government is required to prepare a Comprehensive Plan on land use, utilities, open space and other features. When approved, it guides the process when decisions are made about how many units per acre, where commercial use is allowed versus residential use, use of the public owned open spaces, how much traffic the roadways can sustain and others.
The Comprehensive Plan has been required by the Growth Management Act of Florida Statutes of 1985. It must be approved by the local government and the State before it can be enacted. If the Florida Hometown Democracy amendment is passed, it will also have to be approved by the local voters.
Both the newspapers and the Internet are crowded with opinions on the good and bad of the measure. One Internet source states, "Currently, it's just too easy for wealthy developers to obtain comprehensive plan amendments. All they have to do is persuade a majority of a city or county commission to grant a change. Because comprehensive plan amendments determine the destiny of a community for generations to come, it is vital that changes to a comprehensive plan truly reflect the concerns of the voters."
Internet circulated arguments against the proposal include, "Local governments would find it much more difficult to adopt amendments related to often controversial but much needed community projects," and, "It could result in a series of uncoordinated, piecemeal decisions, driven by popularity rather than necessity."
The group proposing Florida Hometown Democracy have gathered 34,357 more votes than needed to get the measure on the 2010 ballot. The Supreme Court has ruled that the proposed amendment is valid to go on the ballot. Nevertheless opponents, led by an organization called Associated Industries of Florida, are vowing to waylay the issue before it gets to the vote; to keep the people of Florida from having an opportunity to vote on the Constitutional amendment which would give them a vote on the future development of their cities and counties.
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