Don't believe what some developers say about Amendment 4
This letter responds to the Florida Chamber of Commerce's latest misinformation regarding Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4.
Let's start with their statement that Amendment 4's passage would stall development. There's already enough land approved for development in Florida's local master plans (called comprehensive land-use plans) to accommodate 100 million residents - five times more people than now. So there's no need for land-use changes to add residential developments to our agricultural lands and wetlands, and to increase the height and density of our neighborhoods.
But that isn't enough for some land speculators and politicians! From 2007 to 2009, politicians around Florida voted to change local plans to allow a staggering amount of overdevelopment - 520,000 more houses, 1.2 million more people, and 1.3 billion more square feet of commercial and office space (Florida Department of Community Affairs). The Tampa Tribune points out that the 1.3-billion-square foot commercial/office figure is equal to 13,000 new Wal-Marts!
The fact is, developers have plenty of land set aside for building for now and the future. They aren't building because they overbuilt in a frenzy and crashed the market, wrecking our home values, increasing our taxes to cover the infrastructure for their way-out developments, and putting thousands out of work.
Amendment 4's opponents in the sprawl industry also falsely state that Amendment 4 would put "all land-use changes" to a public vote.
Amendment 4 does not require voter approval of every new hotel and grocery store, but it would require voters to approve changes to their community's land-use plan, our blueprint for sensible, cost-efficient future growth. For example, voters would decide if a parcel, far from municipal services, needed to be changed from farming to housing.
If a developer chooses to build in the vast areas already set aside for development in our land-use plans, then no change - and no vote - is required. When a developer insists on building outside our plan's development area, our commissioners will review and vote on that proposal, just as they do now. Amendment 4 simply adds one important step at the end: you'll get the opportunity to veto or approve the commission's decision on the next regularly scheduled Election Day. No special elections, and no expense, required.
If your commission decides to approve three plan changes in a year, then you'll vote on three. On average, Florida commissions approve three or four local land-use plan changes per year. There will doubtless be fewer in future, as developers realize that they'll have to show that their proposed change is in the public interest.
Our plans weren't supposed to be changed willy-nilly, at every land speculator's whim. But that's what's been happening. And land-use change applications have increased lately because land speculators and politicians anticipate that Amendment 4 will pass in November, and then they'll be held accountable by local voters - the people affected by the higher taxes, congested roads and schools, etc. that the change will result in.
So under Amendment 4, the only time citizens would vote is when a developer insists on building outside already-approved areas. As builder Jeff Auslander has pointed out, "Amendment 4 is only going to make it difficult for developers who are trying to promote projects in the wrong place." And the public will vote only after city and county officials have reviewed and approved the change. The public will decide if the politicians' decision truly reflects, as it should, the will of the people. To say that voters are too dumb to understand development proposals that violate the community's plans is insulting. Look around Florida, and it's clear we need a change. The wealthy speculators that grow fat from lax rules and permissive politicians are doing everything they can to spread falsehoods about Amendment 4. You can read the straight story at www.FloridaHometownDemocracy.com.
Since the 1985 Growth Management Act, a blizzard of land-use plan changes has assailed one community after another, making wise long-range planning impossible. Planning has been gutted. People all over Florida have protested unwanted developments, only to find the deck stacked against them by the building industry and their well-rewarded, pro-development politicians. The result has been an unending effort to catch up with the expensive infrastructure that these plan changes require, with existing residents paying the tax bills. We're forced into fighting a rear-guard action to protect Florida's wetlands, rivers, water table, agricultural lands, and natural areas prized for recreation by both our citizens and the visitors who constitute Florida's #1 economic engine. Development is also paving over our #2 industry, agriculture.
Finally, Amendment 4 doesn't destroy representative government. The people are governed by their consent, and in this instance we'll be regaining our decision-making power over land-use changes by having the final say at the end of the local politicians' approval process.
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