St. Pete council approves broader comp plan ahead of Amendment 4

07/23/10 Kate Bradshaw
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In an attempt to thwart the Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment, the St. Petersburg City Council approved a new land use plan yesterday critics say would let developers continue to have their way. Supporters say the new plan simplifies land use issues, but local activists, like Jill Yelverton of Dade City, see it as a blow to democracy.

"These kind of tricky maneuvers designed to circumvent the will of the people are exactly why Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 is necessary in the first place. This 'father knows best' attitude, by our local officials, is an insult. Once again, they are saying that people of Florida are smart enough to elect them into office, but too stupid to decide how we want our own communities to grow."

If voters pass Amendment Four, also known as Florida Hometown Democracy, in November, every comprehensive plan change will go to a referendum. Environmentalists see it as a way to keep unscrupulous developers in check. But many elected officials fear it would bog down local governments in needless bureaucracy, costly elections and lawsuits. St. Pete City Council Member Karl Nurse said the Pinellas Planning Council estimates that 259 proposed comp plan changes would have had to go to a vote over the last five years. He said the city’s new comp plan, essentially a color-coded map, would result in fewer land changes on the ballot.

"What this does,is this provides clarity, it provides simplicity. It allows the the major issues to be [clarified]. If Amendment 4 passes, to still be settled in a way that Amendment 4 had in mind. But what it does, is it eliminates the clutter. And Amendment 4 is like a poster child for clutter."

The map consists of five different zones – neighborhoods, centers, corridors, preservation, and recreation-slash-open space. If Amendment Four passes, voters would only weigh in on changes to those five designations – not the eighteen land classifications that are included in the original comp plan. Yelverton says the new plan will mean business as usual for well-connected developers.

"All they're trying to do is throw up a smoke screen, and try to find some way to circumvent what they're afraid of happening in November. A backlash of this growth at any cost. You know, they've completely flaunted the concept of supply and demand. And now, we've got all of these unsold homes. They keeping saying that we've got to keep building to get ourselves out of it. But I think it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is making the same mistake over and over, and expecting a different result. And that's exactly what our local governments are doing. We're just not going to be able to build ourselves out of this. We should have a say in whether or not we think they're making the right decisions."

Amendment Four has to pass with a 60 percent vote. During public comment, resident Hal Freedman said that to pass a policy that circumvents the will of the voters smacks of hubris.

"You are assuming, up front, that 60% of the citizens are going to vote for this thing, and will put it in. In fact, if 60% of them vote for it, it strikes me as arrogant that you would try to put something in that would override it. That would circumvent it. And that's the reason I'm against this proposal."

Activist Cathy Harrelson asked the council why it shouldn’t put the new plan itself on the ballot.

"I really feel that if this thing is so great, this change is so important and so wonderful, then why can't the people decide? And won't they make the right decision."

Council Member Steve Kornell was the only one to vote against the new plan. He said he also believed the map itself should be subject to a referendum.

"In January, I think that would be the appropriate time for me to consider this. At that point I may be a 'yes,' if it was coming back in January. But I don't particularly want to do it before the people have a voice. I just think that's not what I'm going to do."

The new land use plan will now be sent to various state and county agencies for review. It would then head back to St. Pete City Hall for a second public hearing September Second. Yesterday the Florida AFL-CIO announced it is opposing Amendment 4. The Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment will be on the November 2nd ballot.

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