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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua filed suit in circuit court against Alachua County Monday over a proposed charter amendment that, if approved, would dramatically change how growth is managed countywide. The measure is set to appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. The measure is roundly opposed by city commissions around Alachua county, but that has not stopped the Charter Review Commission from pushing it onto the ballot.

The Alachua County Charter Review Commission voted 10-2 to adopt CRC Resolution 2020-1, which includes a ballot summary purportedly informing the voters of the scope and effect of the amendment. If approved by voters, the charter amendment would essentially establish a so-called growth management area comprising a substantial majority of lands not currently within any city’s municipal boundaries.

The teeth of the amendment are in the details of the text, which essentially dictates that if a city annexes any of the growth management lands into its municipal boundaries, those lands will continue to be exclusively subject to the County’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. Under current law, once a city annexes a parcel of land into its corporate limits, that annexing city’s comprehensive plan and land development regulations govern zoning, growth and development of that annexed land.

The ballot summary states, “COUNTY CHARTER AMENDMENT ESTABLISHING COUNTY GROWTH

MANAGEMENT AREA. Shall the Alachua County Charter be amended, effective countywide, to establish a County Growth Management Area (“Area”), provide that the County’s comprehensive plan and land development regulations will exclusively govern land development in the Area, whether inside or outside municipal boundaries, authorize implementing ordinances, provide for removal of lands from the Area, and provide that the charter and implementing ordinances shall prevail over conflicting municipal ordinances?”

The City of Alachua’s chief complaint as laid out in the lawsuit is that the ballot measure violates Florida voting laws, specifically Florida Statute 101.161(1), which sets out rules for the language of a referendum such as the one proposed by the Charter Review Commission.

The lawsuit alleges that the ballot language is misleading because it gives the false impression that the main purpose of the amendment is to establish a growth management area, when in fact the primary purpose of the amendment is to stymie a municipality from using its own land use regulations. The City also states the ballot summary does not provide “fair notice” that the proposed amendment would modify current rules regarding annexed lands, most notably that a city would no longer be allowed to impose its own land use regulations and comprehensive plan.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that the ballot summary is “false and misleading” because it gives voters the false impression the amendment will result in the County’s planning regulations being applied to lands outside of a municipality, when, in fact, as it currently stands, the County’s planning regulations already govern development and zoning of lands which are not in the corporate limits of a municipality.

Going further, the City calls the ballot summary misleading because it does nothing with respect to the management of growth, but rather, it merely dictates who will have regulatory power, not what is to be done with that authority. And, the City says the ballot measure suggests that growth is not currently managed in areas in the so-called growth management areas or that it would not be managed if annexed into a municipality.

Indeed, the City states in the lawsuit that the amendment would undermine a city’s ability to impose more restrictive regulations to manage growth. The City also calls the Charter Review Commission’s use of the phrase, “Growth Management Area” improper political rhetoric in violation of Florida Statutes 101.161(1).

In its chief complaint, the City details numerous other grievances with the ballot measure, including the failure to inform voters that the amendment would establish actual boundaries for the so-called growth management area, failure to include a reference to the proposed boundary map, failure to inform voters that only by a super-majority vote of the Board of County Commissioners could lands be removed from the managed area. On a technical point, the City notes that the Spanish language translation of the ballot summary is 90 words, exceeding the 75-word limit established by state law.

In Count II and III of its complaint, the City states that the amendment fails to comply with Florida’s state constitution or state laws because the amendment could not “coexist” with existing state laws. In particular, the City points out that the charter amendment would impose the County’s land use regulations in conflict with Florida’s laws regarding municipal annexation and contraction, Florida Statutes 171.011 through 171.094. Additionally, Chapter 163 of Florida Statutes mandates that with respect to land use, a municipality “shall exercise authority” over lands within its boundaries, but the amendment, if approved, would preempt a city’s regulatory control over land use matters. Finally, the City alleges that proposed amendment conflicts with other parts of Chapter 163 which provide explicit procedures for the amendment of comprehensive plans.

The City asks the circuit court to provide temporary and permanent injunctive relief by invalidating the proposed charter amendment, striking it from the 2020 ballot, preventing the Supervisor of Elections from tabulating or certifying the results of the referendum and preventing the County from enforcing the amendment if approved by voters.

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