Florida Ballot Initiative Could Impact Property Usage

Oct. 29, 2010
A Florida ballot initiative puts land use plan changes into the hands of voting citizens – could your state be next in line to propose a similar measure?

Florida’s real estate interests are tackling a serious threat to the industry this fall, one that would halt economic growth and development by shutting down the land-use planning process.

The threat, Amendment 4, would require citizens to approve all local comprehensive land-use plan changes, rather than having those changes approved by city or county commissions. If this initiative is approved by 60% of voters on November 2, it is estimated that voters would decide about 200 to 300 intricate land-use planning amendments each year. Local governments will be forced to either use taxpayer dollars to fund additional elections or wait until the next election cycle to list all proposed changes to a comprehensive land-use plan.

The initiative has the potential to adversely impact all property owners and developers in Florida. They could lose their ability to seek a fair hearing on land-use classifications, bearing the onerous burden of waging a political campaign simply to assert their property rights. Decisions based on more popular land-uses, such as large homes on multi-acre lots, might be approved, while other uses, such as office, retail, or industrial development, might be voted down.

Amendment 4 could permanently impact the state’s economic growth just as the state is rebounding from the economic crisis. The Florida Chamber of Commerce called the measure a "job killer," explaining that it would permanently impact employment and growth within major industries and job-generating activities, ultimately lessening the need for office, retail, and industrial space. A study published by the Washington Economics Group showed that Amendment 4 would cost the state 260,000 jobs and reduce Florida’s economic output by more than $34 billion per year.

If passed, growth in the State of Florida would be limited to land sectors with existing comprehensive plans that do not require even the slightest change. Development could be halted as a result of developers’ unwillingness to become embroiled in a long-term, expensive, and protracted approval process. Fewer commercial properties being developed will force local and state governments to either raise taxes or cut services.

Commercial real estate advocates responded vigorously to this threat. BOMA International and BOMA Florida joined with other real estate associations in a coalition of more than 200 organizations opposed to the initiative. Other members of the coalition include the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), the American Resort Development Association, NAIOP of Florida, the Florida Apartment Association, and other business groups. The coalition developed a comprehensive statewide communication and grassroots strategy to battle the measure.

BOMA Florida developed a "boots on the ground" advocacy campaign to mobilize its members. It established an Amendment 4 committee and adopted a policy position to spearhead its work on the issue. Each BOMA local association in the state appointed a point person to lead the development of a network of local organizers, which reached out to building tenants and owners and worked directly with Citizens for Lower Tax and a Stronger Economy to educate members on Amendment 4. Advocates relied heavily on social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, to spread their message. BOMA Florida also mounted a fundraising campaign with its members.

"BOMA Florida’s members have been incredible in their efforts to help educate members and the general public on the consequences of this misguided amendment," said Debbie Chamberlain, chair of BOMA Florida’s Amendment 4 Committee. "Members have taken time to speak to groups, pass out literature, raise funds and work on phone banks and at polling locations. Our ‘boots on the ground’ have been heard loud and clear."

Amendment 4’s implications are expected to reverberate far beyond Florida, setting a national precedent for other states to adopt such legislation or consider similar ballot initiatives. No-growth and anti-growth groups could easily capitalize on the success of this campaign.

Similar measures have surfaced in other cities and states. In Spokane, WA, a coalition of local and national associations defeated a measure known as the Citizens Bill of Rights, which would have allowed voters to give neighborhoods power to veto development projects through petitions and neighborhood councils. Commercial real estate interests played an active role in the initiative’s defeat. The measure was designed to be a launch-pad to other urban areas of the country and similar measures may be proposed in Portland and Salem, OR.

James Cox is director of state and local affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International.

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