Hometown democracy: Proposal will hurt the economy
In 2006, my hometown, St. Pete Beach, became the first community in Florida to adopt a local version of Amendment 4, what some have called "Hometown Democracy." We were told that the amendment would simply "give the people a say on growth." So, I signed the petition to put it on the ballot. And in 2006, I voted for it. To call it a "bad decision" would be a spectacular understatement.
Our town is proof that Amendment 4 is designed to stop growth, regardless of what the voters want. Few St. Pete Beach residents could have imagined how quickly this amendment would erode our town's quality of life and lead to costly lawsuits that we cannot afford. This law did not give us "a say" on growth. It drove away jobs and halted common-sense progress.
In St. Pete Beach, our economy relies heavily on tourism. However, over time, many of our local landmarks have deteriorated. Numerous properties have turned into eyesores, fallen out of code or even become condemned.
However, after adopting our law, implementing even the most minor planning decisions became impossible. Rundown properties could not be fixed. Empty lots could not be redeveloped. Property owners were unable to repair their own businesses.
While neighboring beach towns were thriving, our City Council was powerless to make even the most minor changes without a costly, lengthy and uncertain referendum process. Within a few months, businesses began to fail. Many left town and took their jobs with them. Soon, residents became frustrated. They called for a new election to update our town's growth plan. In 2008, the citizens of St. Pete Beach approved many long-overdue changes.
However, within 24 hours of the election, anti-growth interests in St. Pete Beach had filed a lawsuit to overturn the results. In fact, this amendment has now cost St. Pete Beach taxpayers over $500,000 in legal fees. A year after voting for a new growth plan, St. Pete Beach residents are still tied up in court.
Now, a handful of well-to-do lawyers are attempting to impose the same ill-conceived idea on every Florida hometown. They are even using the same rhetoric. They are telling voters that this proposal is just designed to "give the people a say."
Don't let them get away with it. Don't let them do to Florida what they already did to my hometown.
- Michael Castleman
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