A joint legal challenge brought by the cities of Alachua, Archer and Newberry opposing the county charter amendment to create a growth management area has been partially struck down in a partial decision by Circuit Civil Judge Monica Brasington. The court in a Feb. 1 order ruled the charter amendment met constitutional requirements to be placed on the 2020 ballot.
The charter amendment passed by a narrow margin in the Nov. 3 election. Two recounts followed, with a final manual recount confirming a 265 vote margin in favor of the amendment.
The proposed growth management area grants Alachua County increased authority over new land development in the region. Proponents of the amendment claim the growth management area would protect local wetlands and forests from overdevelopment, while those opposed see the amendment as an infringement on municipalities’ property rights.
In the months leading up to the election, the amendment spurred arguments and lawsuits from local cities. Late legal challenges ahead of the 2020 election did not successfully prevent the amendment from appearing on the ballot, and defendants Alachua County and the Alachua County Charter Review Commission filed motions to dismiss the complaint.
Following the election, attorneys for the cities of Alachua, Archer and Newberry argued that the ballot language on the amendment was misleading to voters. The argument suggested that the actual impact of the proposed amendment, that municipalities would no longer control their own land use rules, was unclear to voters. Specifically, cities argued “growth management” was politically charged and misleading ballot language.
This argument was at issue in the first count of the complaint, struck down by Judge Brasington.
“Plaintiff has not shown how use of the term ‘growth management’ renders the ballot title and summary clearly and conclusively defective or affirmatively
misleading,” the order said. “Instead, the language of the ballot title and summary clearly and accurately describes the chief purpose and effect of the Charter Amendment.”
Citing state law and legal precedent, the court ruled the ballot language was free of improper political or emotional rhetoric and made the amendment’s impact clear to voters.
“The Charter Amendment meets all of the requirements of law in that it sets forth a clear and unambiguous statement of its purpose and effect and otherwise meets all of the requirements of the Florida Constitution and section 101.161, Florida Statutes,” the order stated.
Two remaining counts of the complaint center on declarative and injunctive relief, arguing Alachua County’s charter amendment is unconstitutional based on Florida state law. The cities involved in the challenge will now decide whether to appeal the decision or await a final resolution of the remaining two counts.
A case management conference is scheduled for March 19, where the parties will meet in an attempt to settle the conflict before a trial.