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Amendment Four Would Give Floridians a Direct Vote on Land Development

October 13, 2010 | FPR - Amendment Four, also known as the "Hometown Democracy" amendment, would require local governments to get voter approval for every change in their land use policies. Supporters say it would put the brakes on reckless development, but opponents argue it would cost Florida taxpayers millions and drive away jobs.

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There’s a quiet piece of land in southeastern Orange County that could have been bustling with bulldozers and survey crews by now. Developers proposed building more than 6,000 new homes in an environmentally sensitive wildlife corridor near the Econlockhatchee River with a project known as Innovation Way East. The Orange County Commission narrowly voted down the project but the developers have vowed to return and try again.

Wayne Garcia is Communications Director for Hometown Democracy, the group promoting Amendment Four. He says the proposed housing development illustrates why voters need a direct voice in development decisions.

“Without the oversight of the voters having a say and having a seat at the table, it's a lot easier for the developer to come in and say we want to make the maximum dollar here at the expense of the natural resource," Garcia said.

Garcia also says the Orange County development would have required new roads and a new $6 million fire station, all of which would have been paid for by county taxpayers. He cites studies indicating that many residential developments in Florida cost 40% to 50% more than they generate in property taxes.

County residents may decide that the investment is worthwhile but, Garcia says, they should have the choice.

“Amendment Four gives the voters veto power over bad development projects,” he said. “If a project comes down the line and goes through the entire process and it's not a good one but because of political reasons, because of lobbyists, because of special interests, it gets approved, it's gonna have one more step and that added step is, at the next election, the voters are gonna vote on it.”

Opponents of Amendment Four say that argument sounds good, but it ignores the other consequences of the proposal.

“There's no doubt that Amendment 4 makes for a seductive sound bite but it's decidedly misleading,” said Ryan Houck of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, the coalition working to defeat the proposed amendment.

Houck says Amendment Four would require numerous, expensive special elections. He says voter approval would be required on even small changes to land use plans including traffic control, sidewalks and drainage.

“There would almost certainly need to be special elections due to the volume of comprehensive plan amendments,” Houck said. “Even if there aren't, delaying vital community needs like hospitals or schools for two years until a referendum can be held, at the expense of taxpayers, is extremely unworkable.”

Houck says the amendment would have meant about 10,000 special elections in the state over the last four years, costing taxpayers millions. 

He says there are other costs as well, including “the cost of litigation and the cost of lost business revenue when you chase jobs and businesses out of our state.”

Amendment Four opponents say the proposal would put the brakes on Florida's economy by slowing down or blocking important development projects.

Wayne Garcia, of the pro-amendment group, says it will make irresponsible development more difficult, but will not stop all development projects.

“There's too much at stake for the developers to let that happen,” Garcia said, “so they'll know that the voters, the residents, have a seat at the table now and they are going to have to act differently.”


PROGRAM NOTE: Tune in to 90.7 WMFE-FM Thursday morning at 6:35 and 8:35 to learn about Amendment Five and Six, which would overhaul the way Congressional and state legislative districts are drawn.


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