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Sparks fly at Hometown Democracy debate

The already heated debate over Amendment 4, known as Hometown Democracy, got hotter than a summer day in Tallahassee Thursday at Capital Tiger Bay, as presenters on each side offered a window into the issue that has polarized growth advocates and reform activists across the state.

Leslie Blackner, the Palm Beach County attorney and one of the authors of the ballot initiative that will ask voters to require that changes to a county's comprehensive growth management plan get voter approval, called the measure "a very simple thing.'' It gives voters veto power and "only affects comprehensive plans."'

On the opposing side was Ryan Houck, director for the Chamber of Commerce-supported group called Floridians for Smarter Growth. He summed up the issue as "a great problem, wrong solution,'' because "everything will be voted on."

"It’s like taking a two by four to a fruit fly,'' he said "You’re probably going to miss the fly and do a lot of damage in the process."

Blackner said Houck and his organizatio is lying about the effect of the amendment and that it will stop local elected officials from "handing out comp plan changes like Halloween candy" to benefit greedy "evil developers." The result is that there is "millions of authorized developments authorized on the books waiting to break ground" and that there is as much residential development already on the books to house 100 million Floridians.

Houck said that Blackner lives on Palm Beach island and "shares a zip code with the Kennedy Compoud" while the chairman of his group is former South Bay Mayor Clarence Anthony. "Why should Ms. Blackner's neighbors get a vote on if South Bay wants a civic center,'' he said. "It's not fair. It's not democratic."

Blackner responded that if the county's growth plan is sound, there will be no need for an amendment. "Ryan's job is to make things confusing and technical so that people just throw up their hands and walk away,'' she said.