As the dust settles from the initial news bomb that Florida’s state government would terminate Disney’s special district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, after 55 years, clarity of the situation has been able to come to light–including clarity on whether or not Disney could fight the legislation.
A spectrum of onlookers, from hard-core Disney fans to verified journalists, continues to debate the constitutionality of the legislation signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. But regardless of that issue, The Walt Disney Company will have a chance to salvage some semblance of the special agreement that gave Disney World the nickname “the Theme Park Vatican City.”
In our initial coverage, we mentioned that the legislation will not go into effect until June 2023 and that between now and then, Reedy Creek, as well as the other special districts that were dissolved with it, have the chance to apply for re-establishment.
Now, let’s look at the legislation–named SB 4-C–and get two key points straightened out.
Disney World’s Special District Did Not Conform Florida’s Constitution
While voices cry that what Gov. DeSantis did was unconstitutional, it appears that Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District was itself unconstitutional.
Amending Florida Statues Section 189.0311 regarding independent special districts and their charter requirements, SB 4-C states:
“…any independent special district established by a special act prior to the date of ratification of the Florida Constitution on November 5, 1968, and which was not reestablished, re-ratified, or otherwise reconstituted by a special act or general law after November 5, 1968, is dissolved effective June 1, 2023.”
Out of the scores of special districts reportedly created in the Sunshine State before November 5, 1968, almost all of them already underwent the necessary changes to align with Florida’s ratified constitution. It appears that only a select few districts remained unchanged and out of line with the new legislation–including Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.
But Florida’s government is giving Reedy Creek and the other “outdated” districts a chance to reorganize themselves and reapply.
Disney Can Apply for Reestablishment
But the bill goes on to confirm that all special districts set for termination will have a chance to restructure and apply for reestablishment:
“An independent special district affected by this subsection may be reestablished on or after June 1, 2023, pursuant to the requirements and limitations of this chapter.”
The exact requirements of the aforementioned Florida Statutes Chapter 190, titled “Uniform Community Development District Act of 1980,” can be viewed by clicking this link. But here are a few key points that could, in this reporter’s opinion, most affect the stability of Disney’s Special District.
- No special district should “outlive its purpose” and be allowed to go against Florida law.
- “It is in the public interest that any independent special district created pursuant to state law not outlive its usefulness and that the operation of such a district and the exercise by the district of its powers be consistent with applicable due process, disclosure, accountability, ethics, and government-in-the-sunshine requirements which apply both to governmental entities and to their elected and appointed officials.”
- Special districts need to comply with outside law and relinquish zoning permitting powers.
- “That the exercise by any independent district of its powers as set forth by uniform general law comply with all applicable governmental laws, rules, regulations, and policies governing planning and permitting of the development to be serviced by the district, to ensure that neither the establishment nor operation of such district is a development order under chapter 380 and that the district so established does not have any zoning or permitting powers governing development.”
- Special districts will not become a burden on the surrounding communities and counties.
- “It is further the purpose and intent of the Legislature that a district created under this chapter not have or exercise any zoning or development permitting power, that the establishment of the independent community development district as provided in this act not be a development order within the meaning of chapter 380, and that all applicable planning and permitting laws, rules, regulations, and policies control the development of the land to be serviced by the district. It is further the purpose and intent of the Legislature that no debt or obligation of a district constitute a burden on any local general-purpose government without its consent.”
(“Chapter 380,” titled “The Florida Environmental Land and Water Management Act of 1972,” essentially redistributes more of the power pertaining to such management to higher levels of government. There is little doubt that both Reedy Creek and the Walt Disney World Resort are already in line with this chapter.)
The Goal: Keep Disney World Under Florida Law, not Hollywood Law
When The Walt Disney Company declared it was going to use its corporate influence to overturn Florida legislation, Florida’s Governor stood his ground, saying that Disney “crossed the line” and making it clear “they do not control this state.” As the true extent of Disney’s “Reimagine Tomorrow” initiative comes forward, Florida passes the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” Now, it appears Disney will have to alter its special district, so it sits properly under the control of Tallahassee.
There is little doubt in this reporter’s mind that Disney will retain a special district come next summer. The Walt Disney World Resort will remain The Most Magical Place On Earth. But in the meantime, this reporter speculates Gov. DeSantis will be waiting for Disney to come to the table ready to negotiate on Floridians’ terms.
We at Disney Fanatic will continue to update our readers on news that directly affects the Walt Disney World Resort and The Walt Disney Company as new developments come to light.