Sarasota citizens to vote on growth control issue

10/05/07 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday

In Sarasota County, citizens will vote on an initiative next month that its supporters say will put a brake on rampant growth. But critics say it could do just the opposite, and call it undemocratic as well.

The ballot measure will require a supermajority – four of five County Commissioners – to vote yes on building density changes to the County’s Comprehensive plan.

Bill Earl is with Citizens for Sensible Growth, the organization that collected signatures to get the issue on the ballot. He says the idea is to provide a check to an out of control planning process.

The proposal is being endorsed by a variety of environmental and neighborhood groups.

The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce is among the opponents. Del Borgsdorf is executive vice president with the pro business group.

But Bill Earl with Citizens For Sensible Growth dismisses Borgsdorf's arguments, calling them silly.

In a small way, the measure could be construed as a test case of Florida Hometown Democracy, the movement – that has yet to qualify for the Florida ballot – that would permit citizens to weigh in on comprehensive plan amendments approved by city and county commissions.

The development community has been working furiously to derail the initiative, even though it may never be voted on by Floridians. They have created a similar sounding constitutional amendment that would neuter Hometown Democracy, and they have exploited a new state law that allows them to challenge citizens who have signed petitions to get Hometown Democracy on the ballot.

Citizens for Sensible Growth Bill Earl also is not in favor of Hometown Democracy. He references a recent op-ed written by Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham, who wrote that Hometown Democracy is "extreme and impractical," but supports measures such as making comp plan changes to a supermajority vote.

Citizens in Sarasota County will vote on the measure Nov. 6. For more information go to www.sarasotacitizens.org/.

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