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Planning Councils' Role Fading In Legislature


Governor Rick Scott will have to decide soon whether he wants to give his Department of Economic Opportunity more power to green light planned communities, shopping malls and other large construction projects. As Jim Ash reports, environmentalists spent much of the session fighting the attempt by conservative Republicans.


It’s the acronym that makes developers cringe – DRI. It stands for developments of regional impact and it’s the name government slaps on huge building projects. Now it means more time and money before the bulldozers roll.

But the business-friendly Legislature has a solution. Last week it voted to peel back a layer of government red tape. And a House version was watered down so critics would calm down.

Charles Pattison, policy coordinator for 1,000 Friends of Florida:

“We saw it change substantially from the first filing and we approve of the bill. We think it’s something we can approve of and live with.”

The House bill had a so-called constrained ag parcels component. It would have made it easier for farmers turned developers to start growing houses. It would have allowed them to shop for the most favorable zoning from local governments up to three miles away.

Critics blasted the provision as a favor to a South Florida developer. Republican Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud yanked it from his bill.

“If this process was easy, I’d be able to come up here and be happy and cheery and everybody would have cheered me on.”

It was a good decision. If La Rosa didn’t, the Senate would have done it for him. Palm Beach County lobbyist and ardent opponent Todd Bonlarron deserves some of the credit for the change.

“We worked hard to make the case that that was not a good idea from a planning perspective.”

Republican Senator Wilton Simpson of New Port Richey sponsored the measure in his chamber, the version on its way to Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

Simpson says there are  advantages to putting the planning councils out of the DRI business.  Developers tend to sneak around it by splitting their mega projects into smaller pieces, and that leads to urban sprawl.

“Now, since that DRI process won’t exist, I will be able to put all three of my projects together and do them as one consolidated project which should lead to better outcomes for our counties and our neighborhoods.”

The number of planning councils would drop from 11 to 10, and their missions would be more streamlined. The councils were born in the 1970s to ride herd on projects that stretched into multiple cities and counties.

Increasing the role of the Department of Economic Opportunity isn’t as scary as it sounds to some critics, Simpson says.

“But remember, the local government still has inter local agreements that they have to put in place with respect to how these developments will be finalized as it relates to transportation, environment and other aspects.”

Scott has seven days from the time the bill actually lands on his desk to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

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.