To a voter reading Florida’s ballot Tuesday, saying “yes” to Amendment 4 is as seductive as siren’s song. If approved, it would give local residents the ability to vote on any new large development plans in their communities, or changes to old plans. For the past four years, members of the Florida’s Home Builders Association, and a plethora of other economic organizations who oppose the constitutional amendment have worked to convince voters that heeding the song and approving the amendment could cause the state’s economy to hit the rocks. They say voting on every land us plan or plan change is cumbersome and costly and would discourage companies from moving to the state.
The amendment’s language is “very, very powerful,” says Doug Buck, the Florida Home Builders Association’s director of government affairs, which opposes the amendment. “It’s a powerful message regardless of how wrong or the implications of what that (amendment) means.”
“Our message, if we can educate them, is equally powerful, but it is incumbent on our side to do the education,” Buck said. “That’s expensive. That’s media (buys). That’s grassroots, versus superficial appeal.”
But the home builders association, along with a plethora of other opponents of the amendment, has had time on their side. It’s been four years since a political action committee called Florida Hometown Democracy began gathering signatures to put the constitutional amendment change on the ballot.
In four years, the amendment’s opposition has been able to build a strong grassroots group to lobby against the change and enough time to gather enough donations to get the group’s message to the voters. It will require 60% approval to amend the state’s constitution to require voter approval of all changes to comprehensive development plans.
That’s a hurdle,” Buck said. “We feel good. The polling shows that we will be successful (in defeating the amendment). Of course, I’m always cautious. We are not resting on anything. But we’ve done all we can. The media buys are out there. The advertisements are up. And our grassroots campaign is working.”
It was a strong ground-up effort that got the amendment on the state’s ballot in the first place. Florida Hometown Democracy’s message plays to residents who are distressed with the type of development that has occurred in the state. As it says on its website: "We believe that when politicians approve new developments in a community, voters should get a seat at the table. We’re the ones who pay our tax dollars to extend the police, fire, water, sewer, schools, and roads to these new developments. Is a new development worth it? We should get a vote before we’re forced to pay.”
The group promises that the amendment will “curb reckless real-estate speculation that leaves taxpayers footing the bill. It will give voters a chance to approve or veto changes to the overall growth plan, ensuring that development is affordable to the community and doesn’t hurt existing taxpayers.”
Amendment opponents claim it will discourage economic development in the state. "This is a risk of monumental proportions, and this is where the economic side says it will just grind everything down to a standstill,” said Buck. "For a home builder, it doesn’t affect me for a while,” he continued. “There are still undeveloped lots. I’ll build. The lots will get more expensive though.”
The bigger short-term impact will be on economic development in the state, Buck said. Opponents think that the extra layer of voter approval for development plans could slow down the approval process so much that businesses wouldn’t be willing to either wait that long for the go-head or take the risk of voter rejection for their plans.
“It hurts economic development and business recruiting and business expansion,” Buck said. “If I’m looking to come to Florida, I’m not going to consider it.”
There have been a number of studies that look at the potential economic impact if the amendment is approved and the results vary widely. And, each study seemed to spark another refuting it.
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines.
For more information on Florida's Amendment 4, see Proposed Amendment Would Give Florida Voters Final Say In Land Use Policies.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.