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January 2004

FLORIDA HOMETOWN DEMOCRACY AMENDMENT

    The Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment is an effort to change the way Comprehensive Land Use Plans are amended in the state of Florida.  Our guest this month is Lesley Blackner, who along with Ross Burnaman started the initiative.  They are both attorneys who work on land use, growth management and environmental issues.
    Ms. Blackner states that the FHD Amendment "…simply takes the confidence that the United States Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have in the people and enshrines that confidence in the comprehensive planning process.  Florida's Hometown Democracy Amendment expands democracy, giving the people the final vote on hometown change."
    Florida adopted the "Growth Management Act" in 1985, which required cities and counties to develop a comprehensive land use plan, with the intention of preventing uncontrolled and bad development.  Those plans may be amended with approval of the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA).  The amendment would remove the authority of these local and state agencies to make changes to "comp plans", and give it directly to the voters.
    So why change the current amendment process?  Certainly many Floridians and not impressed with the results that the current process has provided.  It is also often claimed that continued growth and expansion lowers taxes by creating a larger tax base.  A recent issue of the "Florida Trend" magazine stated that the Miami-Dade and Broward County area had the highest cost-of-living increase of any large metropolitan area in the country, for the year ended April 2003; and that increase was 45% above the national average!
    The Environmental & Land Use Law Center - part of Nova Southeastern University is one of the latest organizations to endorse the initiative.  They observe: "There is a huge disconnect between the best short and long term interests of Florida and the actions that have typically been taken by Florida's political structure. With apologies to the many state and local officials and planners who have made great efforts to plan in the public interest, the bad planning decisions have far outweighed the good in terms of numbers and impact. A true growth management ethic - that strong planning is good for Florida and not something to be 'gotten around' - has not predominated. A process which affects everything from public health and ecosystem protection to affordable housing, school crowding, community preservation, traffic congestion and crime has instead been wrongly treated as [sic] speed bump on the road to economic nirvana."
    "Florida's growth problems have only gotten worse in recent years, and public demand for increased enforcement and state oversight under the existing law has been largely ignored."
    Mr. Grosso, the executive director of the Center won an appeal last month in the issue of growth restrictions in the Florida Keys.  Mr. Grosso stated: "this is judicial affirmation of the fact that we can regulate growth."
    The state appeals court observed: it would be "unconscionable to allow the landowners to ignore evolving and existing land use regulations…."