Saturday, March 27, 2010
OSPREY - The president of Florida Hometown Democracy, a group pushing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would empower voters to ratify or veto changes in their communities' growth management plans, rallied her local fan base Saturday.
Lesley Blackner, a Palm Beach attorney, found a receptive audience in Control Growth Now, a Sarasota County-based group that criticizes local governments' approval of what it considers overdevelopment.
"Our current system doesn't work for the people," Blackner told the 50 people attending a luncheon in Osprey, at which Control Growth Now named her its Citizen of the Year. "It works for the political elite. In Florida, we have government of the developer, by the developer and for the developer."
Hometown Democracy required several years to get enough voters' signatures on a petition that put Amendment 4 on the statewide Nov. 2 ballot.
If Amendment 4 is approved, advisory boards, elected municipal and county commissions and the Florida Department of Community Affairs would still review proposed amendments to comprehensive land use plans.
After those reviews, if a municipal or county commission decides to proceed with an amendment, the measure would be put on the ballot for the local electorate to make the final call.
Comprehensive plans specify what zoning and densities are allowed in specific areas, essentially where and how a community may grow. Yet some development proposals may conflict with those policies unless the plans are changed.
For example, Sarasota 2050, a controversial strategy to allow villages of clustered housing and dedicated open space in areas now zoned for rural, estate-lot subdivisions, required a comprehensive plan amendment by the Sarasota County Commission.
Proposed condo high-rises on Perico Island, also hotly contested, required a comp plan revision by the Bradenton City Council.
Critics of Amendment 4 are expected to launch a $20 million publicity campaign arguing that it will cost jobs, worsen the recession and scare away businesses interested in relocating to Florida, Blackner said.
"Come this fall, there will be a tidal wave of misinformation about Amendment 4," Blackner said.
Her only recourse, she said, is to "immunize" voters by convincing them Amendment 4 will not cause the doomsday scenario predicted by those who, she said, prefer to continue letting politicians who accept campaign donations from developers approve their projects.
Dan Lobeck, president of Control Growth Now, said putting comp plan amendments before local electorates may have kept in check the real estate boom that has cost jobs.
"Overdevelopment has crashed our economy," Lobeck said.
Blackner's appearance and reception contrasted greatly with a Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance forum about the same topic held earlier this month.
Roughly 200 business owners and civic leaders heard from three panelists who staunchly oppose Amendment 4: Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton; Ryan Houck, spokesman for the statewide group Citizens for Lower Taxes And A Stronger Economy; and former St. Pete Beach mayor Ward Friszolowski.
"This amendment is ill-conceived, fundamentally flawed," Thaxton said.
Thaxton told the alliance that comp plan amendments are often supported by mounds of documentation that can hardly be summarized into a ballot question of 75 words or less.
He and the other speakers depicted Amendment 4 as a burden on electorates that could turn otherwise routine land use policy changes into costly political campaigns.