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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Florida Legislature sells state to highest bidder

From the Tampa Tribune

by Mike Salinero

Florida's growth management protections, enshrined in a ground-breaking 1985 law, are being swept away by lawmakers who see them as roadblocks to economic development.

Bills moving rapidly in the state House and Senate would virtually gut the 1985 Growth Management Act, eliminating state planners' review and approval authority over local government land-use decisions. The House bill would also make it harder for regular citizens to challenge the legality of developments, a provision absent so far in the Senate version.

"The result of those two bills will be that growth management as we've known it in Florida since 1985 will go away," said Charles Lee, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.

Another growth management bill scheduled for debate in the Senate today would make changes to a 2009 law that dealt broadly with how developers pay for road improvements when their projects increase traffic, known as concurrency. The bill would eliminate concurrency in dense urban areas, which the Legislature defined as 1,000 residents per square mile.

The courts struck down the law because it violated the state constitution's prohibition against a law dealing with more than one subject. If the House and Senate pass the bill by two-third majorities, it would also blunt court challenges by a score of local governments who say the law is an unfunded mandate.

The bold changes proposed in growth law reflect the large majorities the Republicans command in both houses and their impatience with regulations and bureaucracies they say are choking growth and economic recovery.

"What Floridians should be concerned about is that they're going up against North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama" in trying to attract businesses, said Doug Buck, lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association, which supports the bills. "We want Florida to compete again … our laws are so difficult and time-consuming, we lose."

The House bill raises the legal bar for residents who want to challenge their county commission's land-use decisions in administrative law court.

"You're making it practically impossible for a citizen to win one of these plan amendment challenges," said Charles Pattison, director of 1000 Friends of Florida, a non-profit organization that advocates smart growth.

But for supporters of the law, like Tampa land-use lawyer Ron Weaver, the change "rationalizes" the system, limiting citizen challenges to issues involving the most important state resources, such as rivers and wetlands.

"Citizens are just as empowered as they used to be," Weaver said, "They're just going to have to pick important state issues rather than nit-picking."

The agency chiefly responsible for enforcing Florida's growth management rules, the Department of Community Affairs, would be greatly diminished under both chambers'bills.

The DCA would no longer do extensive reviews of proposed amendments to local comprehensive growth plans. Its commentary on proposed changes, called "Objections, Recommendations and Comments," often prevents costly sprawl development in rural areas far from public water, sewer and other infrastructure, supporters say.

Instead, the DCA would be limited to giving the comp plan changes a thumbs up or down. Currently, the agency approves about 93 percent of the comp plan amendments it reviews, though many undergo substantial changes at the direction of state planners.

Further, the bills repeal the sections of the law that contain the criteria DCA uses to review the local comp plan changes. Without the criteria, Lee said, the agency will have nothing to enforce.

"It's the meat of the coconut," the Audubon lobbyist said.

Nor would the DCA be able to intervene in citizen challenges to comp plan amendments as it did when Miami-Dade County officials approved a large industrial complex in the Everglades, one of the state's natural wonders. The agency prevailed over the county and developers in administrative law court, and the complex was never built.

Other changes to the law will eliminate the requirements that developers show their projects are financially feasible and needed. Supporters say the market will make those decisions.>+Politics)&utm_content=Google+Reader

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