Development a complex issue
In a recent column on Hometown Democracy, Dan DeWitt endorsed the passage of Amendment 4 in the November election.
The recommendation was based on a need to slow development because of the amount of property already approved but as yet unbuilt that lies ready for an economic recovery. Planners and commissioners had already decided that these were the best land uses for the properties. They were carefully planned, guarded by multiple performance conditions and agreements that required development to pay for the needed infrastructure improvements that their plans specified. Mr. DeWitt still cannot see Hickory Hill as a suitable transition area between the densely populated Sunrise planned development project and the rural sections of Spring Lake (known in an earlier version of the Comprehensive Plan as the southeast overlay zone.)
Proponents of Amendment 4 are against all new development — a viewpoint exacerbated by the housing bubble, speculators, vacant lots, and the rate of foreclosures and job losses. This view is short-sighted. If passed, the amendment will certainly dredge up the law of unintended consequences.
In January, the Washington Economics Group issued an analysis of Amendment 4. Job losses would range from 125,000 to 267,000. Florida's gross domestic product would decline between $7 billion and $16 billion. The total economic impact would be between $13 billion and $34 billion. This report mirrors an earlier (February 2006) report by Fishkind & Associates that arrived at the same conclusions — "serious negative economic impacts on Florida."
A community that does not continuously grow is not self-sustainable. This is true partly because of Florida's "save-our-homes" cap and rising costs. On the other hand, a community that grows uncontrollably suffers from degradations in all aspects of infrastructure. Balance is required to avoid both extremes. Unfortunately, development has a long hysteresis — it does not stop and start on a dime. Approving a 3,000-home subdivision does not mean that tomorrow there are 3,000 more homes. Careful planning requires proper phasing. The first step in the development process is the comprehensive plan.
As envisioned in 1985, the comprehensive plan is a living document. Each plan was originally created by professional planners and government officials in each county or municipality. (It is ironic to see the plan being championed as ironclad by those who would wish to outthink professional planners.) The state statutes also allowed the plan to undergo change twice a year. The statutes went on further to state that every seven years, a formal Evaluation and Appraisal Report was to be prepared and the comp plan revisited. Modification without serious and careful deliberation (and public input) was seen as an abuse. The Department of Community Affairs was designated to fill the role of oversight. Their first ORC (objections, recommendations, comments) report historically has been negative — a fact that promotes more due diligence on the part of both developer and government. Only after resolution of these issues is the local governing body allowed to adopt any change.
Currently residents elect officials, who hire professionals to review and recommend change. Residents who care still have multiple opportunities for public comment. The proposed amendment will allow more people to have a say, but largely an uninformed and uncaring one.
Passage of Amendment 4 will not erase vacant lots, end foreclosures, jump start the housing market, or end speculation. It will prolong what is already a lengthy but necessary process.
In September, Hernando County will begin formal evaluation and appraisal meetings. Attend these to understand the full content of the comprehensive plan. Then attend any county meeting that reviews comprehensive plan changes.
Robert Widmar, Weeki Wachee