November 22, 2009
Tomorrow, November 23, 2009, our City Commission will vote on including a Charter Amendment in a voter referendum requiring a super majority vote of the City Commission to make changes to the Comprehensive Plan.
Interested citizens should understand the implications of this proposed Charter Amendment. I encourage citizens to speak to the City Commission tomorrow at 3:30 PM to object to putting this amendment to a voter referendum.
We already have super majority voting in the Charter that requires a super majority vote of the City Commission to overturn a zoning change or Comprehensive Plan change that is denied by the Planning and Zoning Commission (they must hear and vote on such changes). These current requirements provide meaningful and sufficient checks and balances. Further restrictions constitute obstruction.
My arguments against this political effort are included in my letter below.
Dear Mayor and City Commissioners,
Proponents of a City Commission super voting requirement for changes to the Comprehensive Plan (or limited just to “text” changes) base their position on an expectation that the citizens want to be “protected” from changes some may not like.
My concern for Winter Park is that “protection” is not a strategy. Further, “protection” in the form being offered is actually obstruction.
Let me give you the recent history of how you change the Comprehensive Plan in Winter Park. First, you sue the City to stop the processing of a Comprehensive Plan you don’t like. (You don’t understand it but you are sure you don’t like it because you believe the “evil developers” are behind it. How could you be motivated without an enemy to blame?) Then, as the approval process is stalled by your law suit, you run for office to get your majority on the City Commission to impose your view of what the Comprehensive Plan should be. In running for office you compromise your principles and lie to the voters about your priorities in order “to get elected,” never explaining what you really stand for and are trying to accomplish.
When you are elected you cancel the Comprehensive Plan you don’t like and appoint your friends to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Your friends on the Planning and Zoning Commission then propose what you want, making sure the new Comprehensive Plan includes lots of restrictions and limitations that are not required by the Florida Department of Community Affairs because you are afraid that someone might actually want to take a risk redeveloping something in Winter Park. And you certainly don’t ask for or consider input from those who own the effected property because they don’t know anything about how wonderful your restrictions and limitations really are for the people of Winter Park (even though you have never justified them beyond your personal preference).
Finally, you rush through a Charter Review process just in time to get a referendum on the next ballot to ask the voters to approve a super majority voting requirement for the City Commission to change the Comprehensive Plan. When the Charter Review Committee decides this is a bad idea, you propose it anyway because it is what you intended the entire time. What you want prevents changes to the Comprehensive Plan you authored and you think that is a good thing. Oh, and you support your position in part by claiming you don’t like all the “politics” in the process.
This is not “protection” and it is certainly not leadership. It is manipulation and obstruction.
Let’s be clear. If the City Commission approves this referendum it is asking the voters to agree to deny themselves democratic process and put the future of our city in the hands of a minority of City Commissioners. What is claimed to be “protection” is actually obstruction. No one will consider Winter Park for redevelopment projects that may be good for the city, but which will never be proposed because they will be held hostage by a minority of the City Commission. Further, all potential projects will be limited by an existing unchangeable Comprehensive Plan that contains arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions and limitations.
The City of Winter Park needs a commercial redevelopment strategy. “Protection” is not a strategy. Obstruction is not a strategy.
The four story buildings that were approved by former City Commissions (and that are the source of emotional complaints that have brought unnecessary and non-applicable anti-growth policy priorities to Winter Park) were undertaken after years of formal planning by the city. These projects were intentionally focused on bringing higher end residential condominiums and class A office space to downtown exactly because these uses have proven to sustain the retail and restaurant environments that keep our downtown a noted, valued, and valuable destination; a unique place where people are attracted to gather and socialize. The downtown of the place I grew up in New Jersey has become mostly real estate, insurance, and brokerage offices exactly because such foresighted planning was NOT undertaken. These Winter Park approvals were part of a well planned STRATEGY. A STRATEGY, I add, that is working even in the worst real estate market in a generation.
I ask each member of our City Commission, “Where is the commercial redevelopment strategy in the current Comprehensive Plan and proposed land development code?” If you say it is in the four areas where redevelopment with parking garages will be considered you are incorrect. Any well planned STRATEGY for commercial redevelopment will require changes to the Comprehensive Plan and this super majority referendum is offered in a conscious effort to make such changes politically impossible.
Everything about this super majority voting requirement referendum, from the history of its evolution, the motivations of those promoting it, and its implications, is inappropriate and negative for Winter Park and its citizens. Please do not approve it.