BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Lesley Blackner
drove through a maze of condominium towers, rarely seeing any curtains
in the windows, or residents, and tried to contain her anger.
“They’ve crammed as much as they can
in here,” she said this month, noting that just a few years ago cows
grazed on the land west of Interstate 95. “The people around here
didn’t want it — they objected. But the City Commission did it
Even now, with about 300,000 residential
units sitting empty around the state, the push to build continues. Since
2007, local governments have approved zoning and other land use changes
that would add 550,000 residential units and 1.4 billion square feet of
commercial space, state figures show.
So for Blackner, a Palm Beach lawyer, the
real estate crisis is not just the fault of Wall Street, Washington or
misguided borrowers; it is also the back-scratching bond between elected
officials and builders — a common source of frustration in weak real
estate markets wherever developers are still fighting to add more
In Florida, at least, Blackner hopes to
put an end to the chronic oversupply with a ballot initiative she has
labeled “Hometown Democracy.”
Amendment 4, as it is officially called,
would give Floridians a vote on changes to state-mandated plans for
growth in every county and municipality. Much of the potential impact of
the measure is up for debate, with important details most likely to be
decided by the courts.
But if it is added to the state’s
constitution — which would require 60 percent approval on Election Day
— critics and supporters envision revolutionary change.
Leaders of the Yes on 4 campaign,
including Blackner, say it would end a culture of freewheeling
development that began when Hamilton Disston started dredging Florida
swamps in the 1880s. Critics, led by chambers of commerce, say the
measure would lead to lost jobs, chaos and expensive court battles.
But this is not an even fight.
Blackner’s group has raised $2.4 million (with $800,000 from her own
pocket), but most of it was spent on getting on the ballot.
The No on 4 campaign has raised nearly
$12 million through a series of political action committees. The Florida
Association of Realtors is its largest single contributor, giving more
than $2.3 million.
The nation’s biggest homebuilders,
after receiving a multibillion-dollar bailout from Congress this year,
have also been quite generous. A rural area like Jackson County has room
for 996 years of residential growth at current rates, according to a
2009 state analysis. Charlotte County has 162 years of growth in its
plan, while St. Lucie County has the capacity to house its growing
population for the next 212 years.