|Originally Published: 5 November 2007|
Daytona Beach News-Journal
Living in Florida, a state that has more than quadrupled in population since I was born (no, I'm not the oldest man alive), has made me grow reluctantly accustomed to seeing things change: Wooded areas that I once played in have become gated communities; beaches you could drive along have severely restricted access; open ocean vistas have been blocked by walls of condominiums . . . And let's not forget the traffic congestion.
Therefore, it was with surprise and delight that I read about the Hometown Democracy petition for a constitutional change requiring voter approval of all Comprehensive Plan amendments by local governments. Having been fooled by many development schemes dressed in sheep's clothing, however, I waited for the catch. ("We will protect this, but develop the heck out of that" etc.) But, I don't see a catch. The fact that the major (and minor) development interests in the state are scrambling to discredit this idea speaks volumes in favor of it.
Long-term planning, zoning and comprehensive land use decisions weren't made arbitrarily. Local governments spent thousands of dollars on consultants and no small amount of time deciding their own vision of the future of their communities. No wonder that so many residents have watched in frustration as these plans were changed, on a daily basis, as developers trotted in teams of lawyers and advocates, often either dazzling or simply fooling our local leaders. ("This 12-story tower on the beach will really do a lot to enhance the area," said one straight-faced lawyer to a public hearing in Flagler Beach, as the locals hissed and booed.)
I don't point fingers at the local leadership: They are ill equipped to deal with the big bucks that big developers can spend to forward their projects. The threat of a multimillion dollar lawsuit, which would bankrupt their community, often serves to wither all resistance. That's why an amendment to the Florida Constitution is so badly needed: It gives the local commissioners a way out.
Don't be fooled by the arguments against it. Here are a few, with the obvious ripostes:
· Environmentalists are against it: But not many, I'll bet. The chief argument here is that agricultural landowners could (under existing rules) build one house on every five acres. So how would Hometown Democracy's amendment make that worse?
· "We would have to have an election every time we needed a hospital, or police station or school built: We're growing fast, but not that fast. When's the last time you heard somebody say "we need a bigger hospital and we need it tomorrow"? Most of these public facilities are planned over pretty large periods of time, plenty of time to wait until the next regular election. That 600-unit development in what used to be woods, however, needs immediate attention? Give me a break.
· But the amendment would wrest control from our elected officials and give it to special electors: Yes, but those mysterious electors are actually only registered voters. It's not the Inquisition, it's plain old democracy. And believe me, it would take a lot of pressure off the local governments, freeing them up for designating scenic highways, installing pretty paving bricks all over and other necessary stuff.
· It would harm development in the state: More likely it would harm over-development. I mean, how stupid do they think we are, anyway? (Wait, don't answer that one.)
Balee lives in Flagler Beach.