Supermajority referendum faces contention leading up to March 9 election
A unanimous vote by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce’s Council of Leaders on Tuesday pushed the chamber closer to officially opposing a change to Winter Park’s constitution that would make it harder to revise building codes or to obtain exceptions.
The Council of Leaders, a 75-person advisory body for the chamber’s Board of Directors, unanimously recommended that the chamber’s board come out in opposition to Charter Amendment 10. A decision will be made at the Thursday, Feb. 25 chamber meeting.
Amendment 10 would require a supermajority vote — four out of the five commissioners — to any comprehensive plan text amendment.
Winter Park residents will have the chance to vote on Amendment 10 and other charter amendments in the March 9 election.
“The sentiment was it (Amendment 10) was bad governance,” said Chris Gardner, the chairman of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, after the meeting. “We felt like it was a challenge to good governance, and we felt like we had a hard enough time gaining consensus for a simple majority that a supermajority would just allow the minority to control the agenda.”
It started last year when the city’s charter — basically, its constitution — was put under the microscope by a bipartisan citizen group. They reviewed 12 proposed changes, but only recommended the City Commission move forward with the 11 that got consensus from the committee.
Out of 12 amendments, the only one that didn’t get the committee’s nod was Amendment 10. But the City Commission in early February passed an ordinance 3-2 that would require four votes to change future land-use code.
Gene Randall, one of the seven citizens appointed to the Charter Review Committee, said the opposition to Amendment 10 is coming from the building community.
“This is a very political issue,” Randall said. “Text changes are global. If you make a text change in the land development code, it affects everyone in that element. We’re not talking about minor changes here. We’re talking about global changes, big changes.”
Commissioner Beth Dillaha, an ardent supporter of Amendment 10, echoed Randall’s sentiments. She said the idea came down the pipeline after Tom Pelham, the secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, proposed a Citizen’s Planning Bill of Rights.
She said she wasn’t surprised to hear that the chamber was coming out against the amendment.
“The city of Winter Park, the physical character of this community is what creates value and makes it a very unique and desirable place to live and have a business,” Dillaha said. “Any change to our land-use policy should not be taken lightly.”
Patrick Chapin, the president of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the board to come out in opposition to Amendment 10.
“It’s going to create more obstacles in changing the comprehensive plan,” Chapin said. “We will be limited in our ability to attract and also keep businesses. … Unless we start growing our commercial base, the burden of taxes is going to fall on — it already falls on — the residents of Winter Park. You have to spread the tax revenue.”
The chamber isn’t the only group taking aim at the amendment. All throughout the city are red lawn signs that read “Vote No on Amendment 10: Supermajority = minority rule = bad idea.”
The signs were bought and paid for by the Vote No on Amendment 10 Political Action Committee, which has raised $5,200 to convince people to vote against the change, and spent about $2,800.
Jeff Briggs, the planning director of Winter Park, said from 1991 to 2009, the city only had one request to amend the text of the comprehensive plan, the Sun Trust building across from City Hall. But, he said, people shouldn’t judge that track record because the city adopted a much more specific comprehensive plan last year.
Take, for example, Winter Park Towers, which asked the city to change the text of the comprehensive plan just two months ago (a request that was granted by a 4-1 vote).
“It would be expected to be a lot more frequent,” Briggs said. “You can’t necessarily go with the track record because it’s a whole new document. … Obviously, that’s what this is about: Whether the minority of two can dictate policy.”