Home Town Democracy or Tyranny by an Agenda Driven Minority?

The way development is controlled in Florida has its shortcomings, but the solution is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Palm Coast, Florida – January 19, 2009 – Yesterday I was sent a copy of a "letter to the editor" addressed to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. It speaks against the upcoming resolution by the Palm Coast City Council that opposes a proposed Florida constitutional amendment. The amendment is marketed under the noble but misleading title "Home Town Democracy" (HTD). They might just as well have entitled it "Motherhood and Apple Pie." The proposed amendment, which will not reach voters until 2010, looks benign, but it is truly malignant. You will hear a lot about it in the next several months as the debate heats up.
Out of respect to the letter’s authors, I reproduce their entire communication here in case the N-J chooses to edit it or to not print it at all:
Letter to the Editor, Daytona Beach News-Journal:
January 18, 2009
Re: Palm Coast council resolution against the Hometown Democracy Amendment
On Tuesday, January 20, 2009, the Palm Coast City Council, at the urging of the Chamber of Commerce, League of Cities, League of Counties and other special interest groups, will seek to subvert the will of voters by passing Item 6 — PC-Resolution-2009-XX — opposing the Florida Hometown Democracy proposed constitutional amendment.
It will pass under the radar on the Consent Agenda, unless a Palm Coast citizen requests a discussion.
The Flagler County Commission is also considering passing a similar resolution, but hasn’t put it on their agenda yet.
This issue won’t go on the ballot until November 2010, so we still have time to organize and let community leaders know that we support this issue and want it presented to the public fairly.
(Names withheld)
My initial reaction was to simply respond to their email. In fact, here is my draft response:
How does a resolution passed by the city council "subvert the will of the voters?" A council resolution against the HTD amendment is simply the council’s way of saying that they don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I happen to agree with city council. The council’s resolution does not bind the voters. The amendment will still be on the ballot and the people will have an opportunity to cast their vote. But the HTD amendment would be a really bad thing for Florida – witness what has happened in the Tampa area where the equivalent of the amendment is already in effect.
Just because a movement has a noble title doesn’t mean that the movement itself is noble. The title is as off the mark and as misleading as the comment about, "subverting the will of the voters." Such statements turn an issue that can be examined with logic and intellect into an issue of emotion. In fact, the council’s action serves to raise voter’s awareness. Your letter proves this.
What is the real problem? The present process is not perfect, but do you think the proposed HTD amendment is the best solution? I do not!!!
This is too important an issue to be relegated to a simple email exchange. The way development issues are dealt with under today’s system clearly has its flaws – witness the Centex/Palm Coast Resort fiasco. In retrospect, the city should have approved the project in phases. But in the end, the city got a municipal golf course and the former resort site will someday have a resort hotel. The solution is not to turn over operation of the asylum to the inmates. Let me be clear on this – the inmates are not the voters. They are the extremists who want you to drink their Home Town Democracy cool-aid. The Home Town Democracy amendment has nothing to do with either home towns or democracy.
For a real life example of the future if the HTD amendment passes, simply look at what has happened in St. Petersburg Beach, which passed its own version of the Home Town Democracy amendment. (Read commentary) Development plans were approved by voters but those same reactionaries who originally favored "home town rule" sued to stop the projects anyway, subverting the voter’s will. Their agenda is simple and clear – stop all development.
HTD amendment advocates will cite the fact that more than enough residential units can be built under existing regulations. This is true, but the result of such building would result in massive urban sprawl dominated by low-density housing. History has shown us that this is undesirable. Today, planning professionals prefer clustering. Clustering does not necessarily result in more density. It simply concentrates density; allowing for more green space – parks, recreational areas, conservation areas, trail systems, etc. Clustering also makes it easier and less expensive to deliver public services. "It’s not how dense you make it. It’s how you make it dense." Growth experts also recognize that placing shopping and work destinations close to residential clusters is desirable.
I am neither against Home Towns nor am I against Democracy, but I am firmly against the proposed Home Town Democracy amendment. Should voters have a better option to express themselves on growth issues? I think so. But to subject every legitimate change to the land development code, however minor, to a referendum is not the answer.
We have nearly two years before voters make a decision on the HTD amenement. Watch GoToby.com for a continuing discussion of its potential impact and for a look at less draconian alternatives.
2 replies
  1. George Meegan
    George Meegan says:

    Get off the fence

    Toby you just can’t be for Democracy and against this ammendment. That’s what the ammendment is all about. The back door deals made by councils are what brought this to be proposed as a law. This town certainly needs the people to take charge, as the things they do are unblievable. The group pushing for it is the Chamber that already is telling the city and county what to do and how to do it. Your statement about objective decisions not being emotional, is truely a Marxist mentality. The subjective thaught is required if one wants to express emotion and consideration for others. Boy are you a suck-up to the boys.

  2. BB
    BB says:

    You can’t force good planning

    The best towns developed before there was ever Land Development Codes, etc. to tie the hands of good planning.

    Look at St. Augustine, Savannah, etc, etc. These towns were developed with basically no rules and they got it right. Now, you have urban planners trying to create rules to recreate these places and they miss the mark because they feel contrived. Get rid of LDC’s, zoning, land-use, etc. Then you will once again get good places.

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