Gov. DeSantis signs measure banning local voter referendums on land development

It's one of a fleet of bills lawmakers ushered to passage this Legislative Session.

Voters will soon have little say in how the areas around them change through construction large and small, due to legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis just approved.

The measure (SB 718), which goes into effect Saturday, prohibits voter referendums or ballot initiatives on land development regulation.

That means all decisions over zoning, building approval, annexations and various other pivotal matters related to a county or municipality’s streets and skylines will be left to the members of its local governing body.

Jacksonville Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough sponsored the measure, which cleared the Legislature mostly along party lines in April. Republican Reps. Alina Garcia of Miami and Jennifer Canady of Lakeland carried its House companion (HB 41).

DeSantis quietly signed the measure just before 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Proponents like freshman Miami Republican Rep. Vicki Lopez, a co-sponsor of the House bill, argue localities “should not govern by referendum” and instead operate under America’s true form of government, a democratic republic in which elected leaders make decisions on behalf of the voters who put them into office.

Critics of the change say eliminating voter approval of land development is a direct countermeasure to the will of voters. Some labeled the measure the “protect developers from citizens” bill and contend it will further shift power from the many to the few, effectively cutting residents out of decisions concerning local growth management and planning.

“We are basically taking away the ability for citizens across the state of Florida to have any input on the character of their community,” said Jane West, director of policy and planning for 1000 Friends of Florida, during a committee discussion of the issue in late March.

Voters in municipalities across the state — including many in South Florida, a hotbed for real estate development — have rejected building proposals in recent years through the soon-to-be banned referendum process.

In November, Miami Beach voters shot down ballot questions that would have allowed construction of a condo and hotel project Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross sought on the former Deauville Beach Resort site. Ross, a prolific campaign contributor to both Democrats and Republicans, is among DeSantis’ roster of billionaire donors.

Voters in some municipalities have shown they’d rather have their elected officials decide on development matters. In March, 63% of voters in Pinecrest, a small, affluent village in Miami-Dade County, said “no” to a ballot question asking whether they wanted to require supermajority approval among the local electorate for future zoning and land use amendments.

SB 718 is one of a fleet of bills Republican lawmakers ushered to passage this past Legislative Session that preempt some local control of local issues.

Among them: SB 102, a sweeping housing affordability package that includes a ban on local rent control ordinances; SB 1068, which codifies state standards for delivery drone ports and limits the say local governments have in their regulation; SB 170, which would create a path for businesses to sue local governments and stop enforcement of ordinances they believe are “arbitrary or unreasonable”; and HB 1417, which would eliminate local ordinances granting residential renters more rights in cases of rent increases and evictions.

Another proposal that would have removed local protections for historic structures in flood-prone coastal areas and allow developers to raze and replace them with far larger, denser buildings crumbled in the waning days of Session. Like SB 718, the bill was interpreted by many as a response to Miami Beach’s rejection of developments in and around the thousands of properties identified in the city’s historic preservation regulations in the aftermath of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside.

Several lawmakers, including Miami Beach Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe, say a refined version of the measure is likely to come again next year.

In addition to blocking direct voter influence over local land use, SB 718 reworks how counties and cities must proceed in expanding or contracting municipal borders. In place of a general report on the issue, local governments must produce a “feasibility study” of a proposed annexation or contraction analyzing the economic, market, technical, financial and management impacts of a city boundary change.

The local governing body — a County Commission, City Commission, Town Council or other such panel — must approve or reject a proposed boundary change within six months of the feasibility study’s completion.

If more than 70% of the land proposed for annexation is owned by individuals, corporations or other legal entities not registered to vote in an area targeted for annexation or contraction, the area may not be absorbed or excised without the consent of at least half the property owners there.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Dr. Franklin Waters

    June 29, 2023 at 12:28 pm

    Party of Small Government!

    • Bernice kaczneski

      June 29, 2023 at 2:56 pm

      When are we going to fight back against this pompass jerk.

      • Dr. Franklin Waters

        June 29, 2023 at 2:59 pm

        He’s currently doing the Sarah Palin Speedrun from Governor to complete irrelevance. Last I checked his Florida approval rating was official below 50% now too.

        This will hopefully lead to a big political pendulum swing in the next election.

    • Women Vote

      July 12, 2023 at 4:03 pm

      SB 718 and the decision to declined the $377M federal infrastructure funds are not in the best interest of Florida Residents. Florida has the highest inflation in the Unites States, highest insurance rates and soon will one maybe two insurance carriers to choose from. DeSantis IS the Disaster.

  • PeterH

    June 29, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    This is commonly called implemented authoritarianism.

  • Mercury Eduarde Slaveen 👍

    June 29, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    Mini Hitler strikes again with more anti-democracy… his donors will reward him handsomely for nothing because he’s a reviled character outside of Florida.. couldn’t win the presidency if he had one trillion dollars.

  • My Take

    June 29, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    You can’t bribe a majority of a voting population.
    But you can easily bribe a majority of a planning board or county commision.
    Rule by the rich.

    • Judy P Holt

      July 12, 2023 at 10:47 am

      So true.

  • Ann De Witt

    June 29, 2023 at 1:55 pm

    This is gone to far so big development s can take over and our wild life will not be protected and they can build where ever and do whatever without regard to our children and our community . This is called who is lining his pocket !!!!

    • Women Vote

      July 12, 2023 at 4:07 pm

      This is who paid for this bill and who will get an incredible ROI.
      Mori Hosseini, Chariman and CEO
      ICI Homes®– a family of land holding, construction, master planning, and development companies

      Mori Hosseini is the Chairman and CEO of ICI Homes, one of Florida’s largest residential homebuilder/developers. Born in Iran, Mr. Hosseini was educated in London, England, where he received a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Chelsea College of Aeronautical Engineering.

  • Bill Pollard

    June 29, 2023 at 2:28 pm

    This is blatantly unconstitutional. However, it may take years before this is struck down in the courts. The people have a right to petition for a referendum on land actions in their communities! I hope many of the supermajority in this legislature will be ousted in 2024.

  • Bernice kaczneski

    June 29, 2023 at 2:57 pm

    When are we going to fight back against this pompass jerk.

  • Ocean Joe

    June 29, 2023 at 3:17 pm

    Government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.
    A terrible law. Desantis and Spencer Roach must have dreamed this up.

    • Dr. Franklin Waters

      June 29, 2023 at 3:41 pm

      This is why i’ve always said there are only two kinds of Republicans:

      1) Millionaires
      2) Suckers

    • Judy P Holt

      July 12, 2023 at 10:49 am


  • Dont Say FLA

    June 29, 2023 at 4:10 pm

    All those waterfront land parcels being assembled by the state in the name of conservation are going to be sold to the highest bidding condo (etc) developer in about 2.5 years with Rhonda citing budgetary constraints during their lame duck final year. This additional step at making people powerless to stop it further proves my theory to the point where I will even say “I guarantee it. And Rhonda will take that to the bank!”

  • William Abbott

    July 10, 2023 at 8:27 pm

    They are slash cutting forest to build more over priced home which run up our homeowners insurance. It’s becoming less and less affordable to living in Florida . This has been a master plan since the 1980’s. St Augustine is becoming increasingly unfun to visit, DeSantis is a jerk and wants to run for POTUS, this is total bull crap he’s pulling. He’s antigay,you can say the the word guy in Florida. I’m a married man to a woman but he’s making enemies quick, remember 1963 in Dallas.Desantis should be worried,a snowballs chance in he’ll he becomes POTUS

Comments are closed.


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