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NEWBERRY ‒ The cities of Newberry and Archer voted to file suit in circuit court against Alachua County during Monday’s City Commission meetings. A proposed charter amendment on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, if approved, would significantly change how growth is managed countywide.

The amendment has been opposed via resolution by the cities of Melrose, Archer, High Springs and Newberry and, in addition, the City of Alachua already filed suit on Monday, Sept. 21, in opposition to the ballot measure.

One reason for the dispute is that the proposed title, “County Charter Amendment Establishing a County Growth Management Area” sounds innocuous to voters, but if approved, the amendment would limit each city’s ability to determine zoning and land use in their own community – effectively challenging a municipality’s right to Home Rule.

Florida Statutes Chapter 166 gives powers of Municipal Home Rule to municipalities by the Florida Constitution. The contention of the various cities challenging the County’s proposed Charter Amendment is that approval of this amendment would mean municipal governments would no longer be able to have a say in how property annexed into their cities could be zoned or used by the property owners.

In addition, if voters approve the language in the proposed County Charter, only the voters, at a subsequent general election, can vote to remove it.

Currently, each municipality has established their own procedure for allowing annexations and changing the zoning and land use to comport with their municipal regulations. A map of what the County is calling the Growth Management Area shows that a very large portion of Alachua County is within that area. As it stands now, any property not annexed into a city is already governed by Alachua County. If this amendment is approved, the County will not only govern those lands, but also lands within the various municipalities, thus undermining Home Rule.

City Attorney Scott Walker commented that the map is not really well defined as to how additional property will be encompassed or deleted from the map. “It actually says there will be additional ordinances to govern that process. So, what does that mean?” asked Walker.

Walker also said that the potential for confusion based on the language and summary will mean that some voters won’t really understand what their voting on. “Basically, this masquerades as a growth management measure when at its heart, it is taking home rule power from the cities.”

On Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe’s Facebook post following Monday night’s meeting he commented, “Tonight, the City of Archer and the City of Newberry both moved to file suit against the BOCC for the egregious ballot initiative that would rob every municipality of its Home Rule inside our County.

“This is a sad moment for me. Although I believe we should pursue our legal rights, and I agree with the action the Commission is taking, it is always disappointing when we can’t work with our County government to find a resolution. Every city has asked the BOCC not to go down this road. They have ignored us all.

“Disappointing.”

The election to consider approval of this and other County amendments is Nov. 3.

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