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La Rosa: Give Builders A Faster Track

Florida House of Representatives

The same Republican leaders who are pushing to rewrite state water policy apparently aren’t satisfied. Now House leaders are taking their scissors to the massive rule book that governs all the new growth in Florida.

“Alachua County has a unique comprehensive plan. Everything you’re doing here completely destroys that plan, basically.”

That’s James Dick, an activist who drove from the Gainesville area to give an earful to the bill sponsor, Representative Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican.

The bill allows developers with massive projects to sidestep regional planning councils and get on a fast-track state approval process. It forces local governments to include a property rights protection element in their comp plans.

Eric Poole, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties, says the Legislature is breaking a promise not to interfere with local governments, one it made four years ago, the last time it rewrote growth management laws.

“I would encourage you to honor the words of that sponsor from 2011 and let locals be local.”

The bill has some heavy hitters behind it, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce. And some unlikely supporters, including the association that represents the regional planning councils. If the bill passed the council boundaries would be rewritten and their number would shrink from 11 statewide to 10.

Critics were most incensed with a provision called “constrained agricultural parcels.”  It defines those as parcels up to 6,400 acres that were once used for agriculture. Developers of those properties would have the right to match densities from projects as much as three miles away. Palm Beach County lobbyist Todd Bonlarron says it would essentially be a fast-track approval for an entire city.

“There are some very grave consequences for our taxpayers.”

To Charles Pattison, policy director for 1,000 Friends of Florida, that part of the bill looked like a special favor for Sunrise based GL Homes. The company has thousands of rural acres in Palm Beach County it wants to develop.

“We question the need for the constrained ag parcels bill. We think that’s something for a particular interest in one county that has statewide implications. The staff report did not indicate how many other counties would be effected by this.”

La Rosa denied the bill was intended to give any one company an advantage.

The 68-page bill, cobbled together from nine previously filed bills, has several more stops before reaching the floor.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.