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Hometown Democracy leader starts ‘The Price of Sprawl’ website

Nearly a year after the so-called “Hometown Democracy” amendment was soundly defeated in the state of Florida, the group that backed it has unveiled a website detailing the negative effects of urban sprawl in various counties throughout the state. The Hometown Democracy/Amendment 4 initiative would have required a voter referendum whenever a local government amended its comprehensive land-use plan, giving citizens a role in approving urban development.

Lesley Blackner, president of Hometown Democracy, argued that “irresponsible overdevelopment leads to higher taxes and lower quality of life” and Amendment 4 would “give voters the right to decide if a proposed change to the community plan is worthwhile for the community.”

Yet voters overwhelmingly rejected the amendment at the ballot box, perhaps due to efforts by the well-funded group that opposed it, Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy. In fact, Citizens outspent Amendment 4 supporters five-to-one, launching a massive advertising campaign that included a slew of television ads and thousands of recognizable “Vote No on 4″ signs. The opposition, which argued that the amendment could will severely limit the ability to recruit businesses and create jobs in Florida, was largely funded by real estate developers and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Despite the defeat of Amendment 4, its supporters are still fighting against urban sprawl.

Blackner has unveiled a new website, PriceofSprawl.com, that takes a county-by-county look at how development is affecting Florida, and how it will in the future. In Duval County, for example, the “build-out” populations (the population needed to fill all of the housing approved for development but not yet built) is 1,270,509 — 47 percent more than the current population of 864,263. According to a chart on the site, property values in Duval are down 9.2 percent in 12 months, vacancy is at 11 percent and the water supply is in trouble. The site also details how overdevelopment leads to higher taxes and low home values, and is often caused by politicians’ failure to consider certain costs associated with development: roads, schools, police, fire, water, sewer, garbage, etc.

The overall aim of the project is to publicize the hidden costs of infrastructure, the ongoing decline of home values and the ongoing damage to Florida’s drinking water — all of which, say Blackner, are the result of overdevelopment.

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