ST. PETE BEACH — There was no doubt Tuesday that the City Commission dislikes a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution that would require voter approval to change land use regulations.
The city has operated under a local voter-approved version of that restriction since 2006 and has incurred about $300,000 in legal bills defending itself against a series of related lawsuits.
In a formal resolution, the commission called the proposed Amendment 4 "a grave threat to Florida's unique quality of life, the stability of its communities and the prosperity of its economy."
If passed, the constitutional amendment, sometimes called Hometown Democracy, would "further disenfranchise millions of Florida's already fatigued electorate, paralyze local governments and cripple local businesses."
And even though two commissioners — Mayor Mike Finnerty and Christopher Leonard — objected to making that view official, the commission voted 3-2 on a resolution calling for the defeat of Amendment 4 in November.
The resolution urges city residents to vote "no" on a ballot question that "establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice."
The resolution was suggested by the Mayor's Council, a group representing the 24 municipalities in Pinellas County.
St. Pete Beach had its own version of the proposed constitutional amendment added to its charter in 2006 when voters approved a referendum put forward by Citizens for Responsible Growth requiring voters to approve any changes to the city comprehensive plan.
Three months ago, voters relaxed that requirement, allowing minor changes, particularly when such changes are mandated by state law, to be approved solely by the City Commission. Left unchanged, however, is the requirement that any changes affecting density or intensity of land uses, building heights or additions to or changes to land use categories must still be submitted to voters.
In fact, voters here will be asked in March to approve an updated redevelopment plan.
But before the commission began debate on the amendment, attorney Ken Weiss, who continues to represent former CRG activists in legal actions against the city, urged the commission to reject the resolution.
"It seems some of the developers and the development community in the state have tried to make St. Pete Beach the hallmark, the bad boy of Hometown Democracy," Weiss said. "Hometown Democracy gives every single citizen the right to vote on the future of his or her community."
Several commissioners later challenged Weiss, arguing the city is the "poster child" for what is wrong with Amendment 4.
"This takes us back to before the November election and puts everything back on the ballot. It actually is far more comprehensive than what we had before," said Commissioner Bev Garnett. "That's not what our voters said they want."
Commissioner Al Halpern said passage of the constitutional amendment would trigger unemployment because of its negative impact on development and construction.
"We have a representative form of government," said Commissioner Jim Parent. "People realize how much time it takes to review issues. Amendment 4 will frustrate voters. If this passes statewide, there may be less planning that gets done. Net-net it is going to cost the counties and the cities investment dollars that might otherwise come their way. People aren't going to want to move to Florida."
Leonard said although he understood the impact on the commercial real estate industry, he was "not comfortable" with the resolution because it told people how to vote.
"I would much rather stay neutral on this and leave it up to the intelligence of the people of St. Pete Beach as to how they are going to vote on this," agreed Finnerty.