Saturday, May 8, 2021

State bans referendums on growth issues

By Danielle Dodder

State lawmaking sessions held some key changes to the way Marco Island will approach city planning. In 2013, the city will have to update the State on its land use plans. An interactive website will give residents an easy way to weigh in on the city’s Comprehensive Plan, our roadmap for how the island will grow and use land, but any amendments to it will not be decided by voter referendum, per a statewide ban.

Many of the planning board members expressed surprise at the ban when city planner Kris Van Lengen reviewed it and other legislative changes at the July 15 planning board meeting. City attorney Burt Saunders pointed out that the law was a possible reaction to the severe economic drain on other Florida cities whose competing special-interest groups wrangled repeated referendums on land use past local voters.

St. Petersburg Beach, a smaller city of 10,000, is a case study in the collateral damage that resulted when opposing groups of residents, for and against growth, held competing referendums in 2006. The drive to put land use decisions directly into the hands of voters resulted in two elections with two different outcomes and several lawsuits and petition drives thrown in for good measure.

The result: $734,000 in legal bills for St. Pete Beach taxpayers, according to the city there.

Van Lengen points out that Marco Island was well planned by the Deltona group and others. Marco Island’s Comprehensive Plan “covers various land use issues, particularly in a geographic sense. It also covers topics ranging from transportation to infrastructure, conservation, open space, and parks,” he explains.

Some mandates deal with zoning and density and are very specific, “for example, you need to have 1.3 acres of community parks per 1,000 residents.” Others are stated goals of the city.

“Any project proposed by a private entity or by a public entity, including the City itself, must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. That does not mean that it needs to be in the Comprehensive plan, just consistent with it. The Comprehensive Plan is a broad, founding document.”

The city is now beginning a multi- year process of public input on the Comprehensive Plan, part of which is required by state law to ensure the Plan reflects the growth and services the city truly needs. Free software provided by the City of Port Charlotte will allow all islanders to take an interactive look at everything from transportation to environmental issues and weigh in. As on Facebook, users will assume their real-world identity instead of blogging anonymously.

Newly appointed Planning Board Chair Dick Shanahan welcomed the states changes overall, saying, “This gives us more flexibility and will streamline decision-making.” Shanahan urges the public to follow the plans online and express their needs.

“That website is a tool for tremendous input and I hope they [islanders] will use it. It’s going to help guide us to do the right things.”

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