Editor's Notebook

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Susan Burns September 30, 2010

The Amendment 4 campaign is in the home stretch, and as Michael Peltier reports in “The Battle Over Amendment 4,” page 26, this is probably the most important issue Floridians have faced in years.

If passed, it would put on the ballot every single comprehensive land use plan amendment that Florida’s city and county commissions approve. Rarely is the right decision on a proposed constitutional change so clear: Amendment 4 is a terrible idea.

Backers of this amendment are not mistaken when they assert that Florida’s elected officials have allowed development and suburban sprawl in places where it never should have been permitted. Every time I walk North Lido I’m thankful for the Sarasota City Commission that saved it from Arvida back in the ’70s. Without their vision, we couldn’t wander through those wide, empty stretches of beautiful sand and spot sea turtle nests and ospreys living in the woods.

But Amendment 4 is not the right vehicle to preserve what we love about Florida. It is a blunt instrument that will cause immeasurable collateral damage, sparking costly (and often misleading) media campaigns and creating expensive special elections. It will also, as Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton told me, create a “chilling, absolutely freezing effect on [attracting] industry,” since many companies that want to do business here will look elsewhere once they realize many changes they need must be left up to the uncertain will of the voters.

And let’s be honest. How many of us are educated about our comprehensive plan? Take a look at the Sarasota County government website ( and click on the link “Comprehensive Plan Amendment Updates.” You’ll find pages of technospeak written by planners that must be reduced to 75 words on a ballot; our commissioners sometimes study reams of material for months before coming to a decision. It’s unlikely that most voters will spend the time required to understand every proposed amendment and all its implications. And it’s all too likely that many who feel growth has been out of control will just vote “no” on every proposed change, even the ones that might help us create jobs and economic growth without threatening our quality of life. In addition, many of those proposed changes will pertain only to a small geographical area of the county. Do you want voters in North County to determine what happens in an intersection in South County?

Thaxton, who is often on the opposing side of the table when facing developers, says there is a more reasonable approach. Sarasota County already has it. We require a supermajority (a 4-1 vote) by the commission every time a comp plan amendment involving an increase in density or intensity arises. Requiring supermajority votes is a smarter, surer solution to Florida’s overdevelopment than this unwieldy and dangerous constitutional amendment.

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