ST. PETERSBURG — Betting that Florida voters will pass an amendment in November that would require the public, not elected representatives, to approve any changes to land use rules, city officials are looking for a way to blunt its effects.
The City Council will vote today on simplifying a map to limit the number of land use changes that would require voter approval if voters approve Florida Hometown Democracy's Amendment 4.
"This isn't a trick," said Mayor Bill Foster. "Everything is being done with full disclosure. We are concerned about Amendment 4. It will kill development in Florida. So we want to posture the city in such a way that it doesn't have a negative impact if it does pass."
The city's bracing for it by altering its current land use map. It now has 23 land use categories, everything from residential low to residential high, commercial general to institutional, industrial limited to industrial general. Each category comes with rules that govern how high, dense and broad development can be.
Any changes must be approved by the council and then the state.
If Amendment 4 passes, land use changes would need to be approved by voters.
That would make encouraging private investment in the city more difficult, said Dave Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development.
"It will put Florida at a competitive disadvantage," Goodwin said. "For developers, it increases their uncertainty and they'd go elsewhere."
The council votes today on a drastically simplified map with only five categories: neighborhoods, activity centers, corridors, preservation, and recreation/open space.
Adopting a simpler map would allow about 20 percent of future land use changes, under the new rules set by Amendment 4, to be approved without the public's consent, said Rick MacAulay, the city's urban planning manager,
"We're trying to limit the number of times changes go to referendum," MacAulay said. "But the majority of changes would still go to voters."
Recent land use changes in the city include allowing Toytown to be developed into a high-density, mixed-use project, a Sam's Club on 34th Street, a new Publix and changing the land use in Tierra Verde so that it includes a hotel.
Only the Sam's Club project would avoid a public vote under the new map, Goodwin said.
But Ross Burnaman, a Tallahassee attorney who is vice president of Florida Hometown Democracy, scoffed at the city's new map.
"If they think they can create this side document and pretend that Amendment 4 can only apply to that, they're in La-La Land," Burnaman said. "It's so far from legal reality that I'm not even concerned by it."
Burnaman said limiting land use changes to the broader categories on the new map, while at the same time classifying them in greater detail on a second map, wouldn't hold up in court.
But for council member Karl Nurse, who urged city officials to prepare for Amendment 4 back in March, the map is a reasonable response to the new rules.
"Cities either renew themselves or they die," Nurse said. "This is a practical way to deal with Hometown Democracy."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at email@example.com.