DeSantis-appointed Disney board hits back in fight for authority of cities in district

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FILE – A sign near the entrance of the Reedy Creek Improvement District administration building is seen on Feb. 6, 2023, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The first meeting of the new board of Walt Disney World’s government — overhauled by sweeping legislation signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as an apparent punishment for Disney publicly challenging Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill — dealt with the rote affairs any other municipal government handles. Board members on Wednesday, March 8, faced calls for better firefighter equipment, lessons on public records requests and bond ratings. They replaced a board that had been controlled by Disney during the previous 55 years that the government operated as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) John Raoux/AP

DeSantis-appointed Disney board hits back in fight for authority of cities in district

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The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board, which oversees the land encompassing the Walt Disney World Resort, is reportedly looking to pass a resolution that would assert “superior authority” over the two cities within the district.

The resolution is meant to assert its power as the top governing body within the district, including over the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, according to multiple reports.

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The resolution proclaims that state law gives the board “authority over comprehensive planning, zoning, land development regulations, environmental protection regulations, and platting and subdivision regulations shall control within the entire District, including within the jurisdictional limits of the City of Lake Buena Vista and the City of Bay Lake.”

It also states the cities “shall not adopt land development regulations that are less stringent than or in conflict” with the district’s and that the two cities will “not accept applications for, consider for approval or issue any development orders or development permits, or approve or execute any development agreement regarding any development projects.”

The cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake have a combined population of 53 people, according to the 2020 Census. All four Walt Disney World theme parks, the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, are located in Bay Lake.

The resolution is set to be discussed and voted on at the next board meeting on April 19.

The board, which was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) after he signed a law restructuring the district to include more state oversight, appears to be attempting to close any loopholes Disney may use to go around the new board’s oversight.

DeSantis and the board are still reeling from the discovery of an agreement between the previous Disney-appointed board and the company that stripped the new board of its power for the foreseeable future.

The agreement, which was signed on Feb. 8, does not permit the board to make most changes without permission from the Walt Disney Company. The “King Charles clause” in the agreement ensures Disney has autonomy over the district, which includes the Walt Disney World Resort, until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, living as of the date of this declaration.”

DeSantis ordered an investigation into the Disney-appointed board of the then-named Reedy Creek Improvement District after the agreement surfaced. DeSantis’s office has also said the agreement is likely invalid and that all options remain on the table, including legislative action.

The DeSantis-appointed board announced last month that it had hired four outside law firms to work to void the agreement made under the previous board.

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law,” Disney said in a statement to the Washington Examiner after the DeSantis-appointed board discovered the agreement.

The Florida governor has recently vowed to investigate Disney’s taxes on their hotels and impose tolls on the roads that serve Disney’s theme parks.

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The battle between the governor and the company, which led to Disney’s Central Florida district being restructured, stemmed from Disney denouncing DeSantis’s push for the Parental Rights in Education Act last year. Disney had maintained full autonomy over the district since its creation in 1967.

The Washington Examiner reached out to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board members and Disney for comment.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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