Clock is ticking on Florida zoning entitlements; Ballot question could change development in Sunshine State

The Saint ReportPlanning and Zoning, Politicians and Planning, saintblog0 Comments

By Tom Ahern
Senior Vice President, Capital Markets & Health Care
The Saint Consulting Group

Slow Growth and No Growth activists have finally succeeded in their efforts to place on the statewide ballot an measure that could radically alter the development process in Florida.

The so-called Hometown Democracy initiative petition, which fell short of the required signatures needed for ballot access in 2004, 2006 and again in 2008, has been certified by the Florida Supreme Court and will appear on the 2010 ballot as Amendment 4.

Supporters of the measure, led by Lesley Blackner, an attorney from Palm Beach, have long posited that a firewall needs to be built between development interests and the elected officials who approve land development plans and zoning changes. Thus, the Hometown Democracy petition, which would require that any changes to a municipal comprehensive plan be approved by citizens at the ballot box.

Opponents of the measure, led largely by Florida’s development and business community —including NAIOP, ICSC, the Florida Homebuilders and the Florida Chamber of Commerce — have long held that passage of the measure would bring new development in Florida to a grinding halt.
This message resonated during the boom cycle for Florida development. With thousands of jobs at stake in the development industry, building everything from shopping centers to multi-family homes to new roads and bridges, the drive to halt development remained a interesting, if not quixotic mission of a few environmental activists and smart growth advocates. Three times the effort fell short of gathering enough support to make the ballot, in part because of the broad reach of the development economy that fueled real estate speculation and broadened more than a few bank accounts across the Sunshine State.

But how will Florida react to Hometown Democracy during the bust cycle? There certainly is a potential for voters to react harshly towards developers and the financiers of the real estate industry by imposing strict new curbs on how and where they grow. Most economic forecasts are predicting a gradual rise out of the current economic troubles but will this rise be large enough and quick enough to make Florida voters forget the boom and bust in 18 months time?

The savvy developer or investor is not waiting to see if Amendment 4 passes. They are putting in place their local land use campaigns now, winning their comprehensive plan changes now, and ensuring that the wrath of voters does not impede their future development plans. Surely there will be lawsuits and challenges awaiting whatever sides emerges victorious in November 2010. (It’s a Florida statewide election, of course there will be lawsuits!)

But one thing is for sure: It will be voters who will most influence the next development cycle in Florida, not the market.

Further reading on Hometown Democracy:
Floridians for Smarter Growth: florida2010.org
Hometown Democracy: floridahometowndemocracy.com

Tom Ahern is senior vice president for capital markets and health care, The Saint Consulting Group, email: ahern@tscg.biz phone 781 836-4343

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