Florida’s Amendment 4 - Act Now or Pay Later
By: Toby Burke, senior director of state and local affairs, NAIOP
A proposed amendment to the Florida constitution, known as Amendment 4 (previously known as the "Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment"), has been certified and will appear on the state election ballot on November 2, 2010.
If adopted, Amendment 4 would require voter approval on all proposed amendments, no matter how minor, to local comprehensive land use plans. It would effectively halt commercial real estate projects throughout Florida, jeopardizing the state’s economic future and hindering job creation. The practical impact would be to require hundreds and possibly thousands of decisions by Florida voters on complex land-use planning issues while local officials and land planners, who have training and knowledge needed to make informed growth management assessments and decisions, are stripped of their authority.
NAIOP and NAIOP of Florida strongly oppose Amendment 4. The proposed amendment would cause delay and uncertainty in moving forward on projects and discourage capital investments. Any commercial real estate project that requires even the slightest or non-substantive comprehensive land use plan change would require a public vote. The effect would be to hamper efforts by cities and counties to spur urban revitalization and downtown redevelopment, and slow attempts to create jobs in a state with an 11.8 percent unemployment rate (December 2009).
The detrimental economic impact of this initiative can be seen in St. Pete Beach, where a local Amendment 4-style ordinance has been in place for about three years. After experiencing low economic activity and spending thousands of local taxpayer dollars on elections and legal challenges, local voters decided to scale back its local ordinance so that only certain land use changes would be placed on a public ballot.
Former St. Pete Beach Mayor Ward Friszolowski was quoted in a Floridians for Smarter Growth (now Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Strong Economy Inc.) press release, stating that, "St. Pete Beach residents are tired of voting on everything, especially issues that don’t even relate to development. This amendment doesn’t work. It has resulted in chaotic, confusing and expensive elections driven by sound bites rather than sound planning."
Working Together for the Common Good
NAIOP of Florida has been actively engaged in defeating this ballot initiative and has joined Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Strong Economy Inc., a coalition of Florida business, labor and civic organizations concerned with the adverse impact that this constitutional amendment would have on the state.
This unprecedented show of agreement and support between business and labor on Amendment 4 was illustrated in a recent coalition press release by Frank Ortis, president of the Florida State Council of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, stating, "It is not too often that a union leader and a business leader agree on something. But we can all see how Amendment 4 would hurt Florida’s working families. And we are working together to defeat it." Ortis also serves on the board of the Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, Inc.
While the state currently suffers through probably its worst fiscal crisis in generations, the potential damage to Florida’s economic future and quality of life by Amendment 4’s adoption was further highlighted in a recent study released by Tony Villamil, an economist with the Washington Economics Group. The study, sponsored by Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy Inc., concluded that, if adopted, Amendment 4 would cost the state of Florida nearly a quarter of a million jobs.
Although NAIOP of Florida opposes Amendment 4, it should not be overlooked that NAIOP members remain committed to growth management principles that returns blighted land to productive use and spurs urban revitalization while respecting the environment and Florida’s natural resources. In fact, it is worth noting the concerns with Amendment 4 cited by the 1000 Friends of Florida, a non-profit organization of planners, attorneys and community activists dedicated to protecting natural areas. The board of this organization reviewed the ballot initiative in 2007 and raised the following concerns:
- high-priced media campaigns;
- a series of non-comprehensive and uncoordinated piecemeal decisions;
- the potential to limit responsible new development in urban areas, thus shifting development to rural areas;
- legal challenges for matters such as vague wording of a proposed plan amendment; and
- inter-governmental conflicts when the local approval of an amendment is inconsistent or "not in compliance" with a state law.
Amendment 4 is not just an issue for NAIOP members in Florida. It is a state issue with national repercussions. Any NAIOP member, who owns, has assets or other interests in commercial real estate projects in Florida will be affected by Amendment 4 if the provision is adopted. Visit www.florida2010.org to learn more and get involved.