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Getting the facts on Hometown Democracy

I appreciated The Observer's Jan. 21 article, "City lays out goals," in which they recounted the Winter Park City Commission's objectives for 2010, and what lies beyond.

Indeed, a heavy topic of the event was finances as Winter Park is not immune to changing economic conditions and resultant declining revenues. Continued budget constraints will require discipline in terms of budgeting, planning, prioritizing and managing the needs of our residents.

While The Observer mentioned potential tax reform measures coming from Tallahassee as another threat to revenues, they then added that a ballot initiative called Hometown Democracy or Amendment 4 would "take all zoning decisions out of local government's hands and put them on an annual ballot." While Hometown Democracy is not related to tax reform or budgets, I'd like to correct The Observer's erroneous description of the initiative, as amending our state constitution is very serious business and voters need facts, not misinformation. In depth, accurate information about Amendment 4 can be found at www.floridahometowndemocracy.com.

Hometown Democracy, Amendment 4, would not take all zoning decisions out of local government hands and put them on the annual ballot. The initiative does not apply to zoning, rezoning, variances, subdivision plats, building permits or development projects that comply with an existing Land Use Plan. Amendment 4 applies only to proposals that go against existing city or county Land Use Plans and are approved, nonetheless, by local elected officials. Should a city or county commission approve a proposed Land Use Plan change, residents would have veto power if they found those developments and plan changes were not appropriate or in the best interests of the community.

Every Florida city and county has a state-mandated Comprehensive Plan to manage and plan growth. Each municipality's Land Use Plan is a major component, designating land use (such as residential, commercial, industrial or open space) and density, and balancing everyone's interest. Land Use Plans ensure available services (such as fire and police) and resources (such as water and sewer) will accommodate growth. In essence, our Land Use Plan is the blueprint for development that will protect your quality of life in Winter Park.

It should be no surprise to anyone that elected officials, whether at the federal, state, or local level, don't always vote in the public interest. Developers and special interests are among the biggest campaign contributors to local politicians, heavily influencing votes pertaining to land use.

Hometown Democracy would seriously dilute the impact of those political contributions and would provide a much-needed check and balance when changes to growth management plans are contemplated. If passed, the playing field between the citizens and special interests would be substantially leveled, and residents would finally have a say in how their community grows.

—Beth Dillaha

Winter Park city commissioner

City needs to help highway businesses

Your interesting article on the "visibility struggle" for NYPD Pizza moving into the vacant space on U.S. Highway 17-92 ("New beginnings", published Jan. 21) fails to mention another hurdle they must overcome.

The city of Maitland has closed off Ventris Avenue at Live Oak Street between Dodges Gas Station and the Regions Bank, making it nearly impossible to get into the new shopping area. It makes no sense to me. Opening that street would allow drivers on 17-92 access to the light at Manor Road rather than having to cross the very busy highway, a clear safety issue.

But safety is only one of the main issues. The other is to help give good access to the retail businesses on 17-92 struggling to earn a living. Out of the four original businesses that opened there in late 2007 or early 2008, two of them have already given up the ghost: Rita's Italian Ice and Shane's Rib Shack. With Steak & Ale, just a few feet away, also vacant, why isn't the city trying harder to encourage those businesses instead of putting obstacles in their path — literally!

Good luck to NYPD. They're fighting an uphill battle with the city of Maitland.

—William K. Paton

Maitland

Candidate has long service record

Thank you for covering the Winter Park city commission races. I did not have the opportunity to share my record of service to Winter Park with your reporter prior to the Jan. 21 article ("City races shape up") on the election, and I would love the opportunity to fill in a few gaps.

It's true that I served on the Historic Preservation Commission, but I have also served on the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Public Art Advisory Board and the Tree Preservation Board, having volunteered on a city board every year since 1998. I am proud that my fellow members entrusted me to serve as chairman on all four of those boards.

If I am chosen by Winter Park residents to serve as a city commissioner, I would be the only landscape architect on the Commission. This means I could bring the same expertise designing neighborhoods and parks that helped me contribute to the development of the Park Avenue streetscape, the Winter Park Village and the Park at Orwin Manor.

Winter Park deserves a commissioner who knows what is happening in the city today, and who has listened to and worked with residents regularly for over a decade. I'm proud that my candidacy gives them that choice on March 9.

—Tom McMacken

Candidate for Winter Park City Commission