Chamber of Commerce Views Power of the People With Dismay
By Anne McKay Garris
The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce sponsored the meeting. The subject for discussion was how very awful things would be if the proposed Amendment 4 to the Florida State Constitution should become law. Called the Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment, this document reads, "Before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice (presumably to the people.)"
At the meeting, last week, the first speaker was Mr. Ronald L. Weaver, who is chairman of the Environmental and Land Use Law department in the Tampa office of the law firm of Stearns Weaver Miller Wissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A. He is also founder of the RealEsateLives.org support group for the real estate industry.
After a witty reference to how sacred the "Power of the People" is in a democracy, Mr. Weaver proceeded to explain to the thirty or so people gathered at the meeting, that the power of the people is sacred. But, he pointed out, the people's ability to understand the complexities of land use planning and comprehensive plans is limited, as is their willingness to read the lengthy documents that make up the local governments' comprehensive plans.
"Amendment 4, giving the 'power to the people' sounds good," he said, "but it's a bad idea." He went on to explain that cities and counties would lose billions of dollars in economic development if developers knew that had to wait for the people to vote on their plans before they could be put into effect. (Of course, this would only be the case if the developers wanted to do something that called for a change to the plan.)
"This," he added, "would cause the State of Florida to lose money and jobs," because of lack of new development and possible employers going to other states where building regulations were more reasonable. "This is the worse time to tell potential employers they need approval for every flex plan," he said.
Mr. Weaver concluded with the proposition that Amendment 4 would "deny elected officials the opportunity to do their duty in seeing that we have hospitals, schools and laboratories."
The second speaker chosen by the Chambers of Commerce, was Mr. Ward J. Friszolowski, former mayor of St. Pete Beach. Mr. Friszolowski is an architect, specializing in the designing of public buildings. He spoke on his experience in St. Pete Beach when that community, hoping to prevent the overbuilding they had been observing in the surrounding cities, passed their own version of Amendment 4.
It was approved by vote of the people, and, in 2005 the St. Pete Beach Commissioners adopted some sweeping changes to the city's comprehensive plan. If put into effect the plan would have drastically changed the look and feel of the downtown area and the tourist-zone Gulf front. The plan reallocated density to allow high rise hotels along the beach and other changes in the downtown, raising the maximum height limit from 5 stories to 15, among other things.
St. Pete Beach's version of Amendment 4 was not as sweeping as the statewide version. It only required that the citizens be allowed to vote on any future changes to the plan which dealt with more than 5 acres and any land development proposal that increased building height, as well as any plans for a Community Redevelopment area in the city. There are a number of lawsuits pending which is preventing any development from taking place at this time on St. Pete Beach.
Mr. Friszolowski sees St. Pete Beach's experience as a reason to defeat Amendment 4 in November. "The State has just passed a law which will not allow governments to spend public money to influence an election," he said. "With elected officials hampered, it gives more power to the people waving brochures supporting their views."
Clearwater's Vice Mayor John Doran was the third speaker on the program. Commenting that he was not speaking against Democracy "which is a representative form of government," Mr. Doran suggested that Amendment 4 is "throwing the baby out with the bath water."
He spoke of a study that had determined that Amendment 4, in stopping redevelopment, would negatively affect Florida's economy. He also proposed the idea that developers, with big money to spend, would get their proposals passed, whereas "park lovers" would be hampered by small budgets and lose in the long run.
"Under Amendment 4, the people will have to deal with too many issues," he added, pointing out that the small community of Frost Proof, Florida, had 310 amendments to its comprehensive plan in just one year. He highlighted his argument by showing a supposed ballot with just 20 amendments listed to demonstrate what a chore that would be for the electorate.
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