The referendum approval process the town has used for more than 25 years is now useless thanks to an unintended consequence of a bill the Florida Legislature passed earlier this year.
Now, the town is spending between $15,000 and $30,000 to correct the issue.
The charter is currently ineffective in regard to future density increases because the Legislature approved at its spring session a two-page bill that nixes the referendum process statewide and also renders any referendum approved on or after June 1, 2011, moot.
That’s a problem, because the charter states you can’t increase density without voter approval.
As a result, the approval process, along with a referendum the island’s registered voters approved Nov. 6, 2012, are now null and void.
That referendum allowed two properties to convert from commercial to residential use, allowing for a maximum of six dwelling units per acre. All other referenda approved in previous years are not affected.
Town Manager Dave Bullock and town attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale began working weeks ago to determine how to correct the issue.
They have been working with lawmakers who sponsored the bill to try to persuade the Legislature to reverse its course when it meets again in early 2014.
Commissioners have made it clear they want the charter to remain in effect as is, especially in regard to future density approvals from the Key’s voters.
Two state legislators with ties to the community have agreed to sponsor a bill that amends the bill to allow the town’s charter to remain in effect, essentially preserving the Key’s charter.
District 71 Rep. Jim Boyd has agreed to sponsor the bill, and District 26 Sen. Bill Galvano has agreed to be the bill’s Senate companion sponsor. Both legislators are Manatee County residents. Galvano’s district also contains a portion of Sarasota County.
Portale told commissioners that a Tallahassee-based lobbyist who charges $225 an hour has been hired and has already secured Boyd and Galvano as the amended bill’s sponsors.
“The bill is already being drafted for the Legislature,” Portale said.
The town has also engaged special litigation counsel to obtain an opinion from a judge that will provide the town declaratory relief. That attorney’s bill is unknown at this time.
The move gives the town a legal opinion that can be used if any applicant comes forward to increase town density and is unable to do so because of the hindrance in the charter.
Bullock called the local legislators sponsoring of the bill “a big step toward our objective.”
Restrictive density requirements
The town of Longboat Key’s charter and the 1984 Comprehensive Plan requires that voters approve any density increase.
The town charter states: “Present density limitations provided in the existing Comprehensive Plan as adopted on March 12, 1984, shall not be increased without the referendum approval of the electors of Longboat Key.”