Would Home Town Democracy Work?
By Anne McKay Garris
Of course, home town democracy works. But what about "Florida Home Town Democracy?" That's the name for a proposed Florida Constitution amendment, initiated by a citizen's group and expected to be on the ballot in the next election. The answer to whether or not it would work depends on who you ask. Government officials, most of whom prefer to think they know best, think it would slow government to a stand still. Preservation groups and many ordinary citizens think that might be a good idea.
One Clearwater official stated, "It would force the cities to allow the public to decide on everything." This is as much an exaggeration as the statements by the people who think it would solve everything.
The actual referendum wording is, "Public participation in local government comprehensive land use planning benefits the conservation and protection of Florida's natural resources and scenic beauty, and the long-term quality of life of Floridians. Therefore, 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."
No one knows, of course, exactly how this would work but a Clearwater official agreed to give an opinion.
If Florida Home Town Democracy (FHTD) had been in place could the people have voted on whether or not the City and County could increase the motel/hotel density by more than a third as was done recently. The increase in density required an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan of both the cities and the county, so the answer would be, yes.
If the city wanted to vacate streets for the use of developers, could the people vote on that with FHTD in place? The answer is, no. Vacating streets doesn't come under the Comprehensive Plan.
Would FHTD give the people a vote on such changes as selling city owned property or annexing an area into the city? The answer to this is, no, unless it also involved a change in land use. This is because the Comprehensive Plan only governs land use and there can be more than one zoning district within a land use. If residential land use includes, single family and multi-family zoning, for instance. A change from one to the other would not be a land use change.
More important, perhaps, there would have to be a vote if city government wanted to change environmental land uses to commercial, or even residential use. This, and concern about density of population, is what drives the FHTD amendment and has put over 711,168 signatures on the FHTD amendment petition, making it a sure thing to be on the ballot.
One issue which would be at stake in Clearwater is called Transportation Concurrency. This is a requirement that, before they can build, major developers must demonstrate that the streets adjacent to their property are already adequate to accommodate the additional traffic which their development would generate. Recently, the State Legislature has removed the Transportation Concurrency from their requirements. It is still in Clearwater's Comprehensive Plan. Under FHTD, to remove that from the plan would probably require a vote of the citizens.
It sounds like FHTD would do a lot, probably some of it good and some not so good. It would not, however, allow the citizens to vote on a raise for city officials, or whether or not to fund libraries and recreation centers.
St. Petersburg Beach has tried something similar to FHTD on a local level. Next week the Gazette will report on how that is working.
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