Amendment 4 — the so-called “Hometown Democracy” amendment on Florida ballots this November — has proven especially divisive in South Florida, where both the Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post have openly voiced their opposition. Recently, though, the issue has begun to heat up in North Florida.
Though the Florida-Times Union’s editorial board has opposed the amendment in the past, columnist Ron Littlepage made his case in support of Amendment 4 in a May 2009 piece: “Direct democracy on land use changes may be the only way to promote smart growth in Florida.”
If passed, Amendment 4 would allow voters a say in land planning on development initiatives — in essence giving Florida citizens the chance to choose where shopping centers, parking lots and roads are built. The brainchild of Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner and Tallahassee attorney Ross Burnaman, “Hometown Democracy” aims to “put the people back in charge of the places where they live.”
It comes as no surprise that developers around the state are fighting against the amendment. Typically, for a new project to go forward, only a select number of elected officials need vote for it — but it must meet regulations outlined in the 1985 Growth Management Act, a comprehensive plan that takes into account various effects a construction project would have on a local community. If Amendment 4 passes, developers would have to sell their idea to an entire county, not just elected officials.
On Tuesday’s “First Coast Connect,” a Jacksonville-based public radio program, City Council President-elect Jack Webb made clear his distaste for the amendment. “I just think that this amendment would have devastating effects on Florida’s economy,” he said. “I recently spoke with [Duval County Supervisor of Elections] Jerry Holland and he told me that 63 to 65 percent of Floridians are pro-Amendment 4. … This is obviously the South Florida tail wagging the Florida dog.”
But many North Floridians cite a 2006 development deal on Black Hammock Island as rationale for supporting Amendment 4. After the City Council approved a 358-acre upscale development on Timucuan Preserve, one of Jacksonville’s citizens became furious. The council’s approval came after the city’s Planning Department and Planning Commission advised against the deal, which would have paved the way for 143 homes — and with them, 143 septic and 143 pesticide-treated lawns — on Black Hammock.
Eventually, after several lawsuits from environmentalists and issues with failing septic tanks, not to mention a harsh economic climate that dried up credit markets, the deal was abandoned. But with the economy on the rebound, and other developments sure to crop up, Amendment 4 has the potential to make a dramatic impact on Florida’s developmental growth front.