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Growth mangament re-write cleares senate committee

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-963377.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A rewrite of Florida's growth management law was approved by the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee with little opposition Thursday. James Call reports, the vote paves the way for the most substantial change in laws regulating development in 26 years.

Florida's growth management act of 1985 was considered ground breaking. It required communities to develop comprehensive plans to accommodate growth. Local plans have to be consistent with regional plans and state government has a say in them and any changes. At the time it was noted it was a grand experiment, one which Senator Mike Bennett, sponsor of SB1122, said that time has revealed to contain a fundamental flaw.

"We have found the state of Florida is not as good at managing downtown Fort Lauderdale as good as downtown Fort Lauderdale is. We have found that the state of Florida is not as good at managing Sarasota as Sarasota. Is. So we wanted to give more control to the locals on this."

More than 200 people gathered in a committee room to listen to Senators discuss the proposal. Representatives for city and county associations expressed support, as did realtors. Conservationists said they were either opposed or uncertain. Charles Pattison of 1,000 Friends of Florida waived his opportunity to testify and said he wants to work with Bennett on items in the bill that worry his group.

"There are limitations on impact fees; there is limitation on citizens' ability to vote on land use amendments which we think should be reserved to the local government. You heard that financial feasibility should be removed from the process. There's a host of things like that that the conservation community were concerned about and thought that yes it is time to make some adjustments but not to this scale."

Florida growth laws require concurrency, that is, schools, roads, and the infrastructure for utilities be built along with the development that will lure people to build a home in an undeveloped area. The idea was to control urban sprawl and promote development and redevelopment in what the state refers to as urban service areas. Bennett proposes leaves concurrency requirements up to local governments.

"I think that the problem with urban sprawl is what we decided to do is leave that up to the local government and if the local government wanted to develop a piece of property that say is outside of the what is normally considered the urban service boundary that would be up to the local government. Again, we're trying to give back to the local governments to do what they want to do. We just don't think the state of Florida should be dictating the boundaries for local development."

And that kind of thinking is a red flag of warning to people like Pattison who is searching for a way to argue against Bennett's proposition without appearing opposed to local control. He said removing the state from the review process turns back the clock to the time before Florida implemented a growth management act requiring communities to plan for population growth.

"Sitting back and looking at that period of time when the state didn't have authority that it didn't have we think that that would be a retreat to the early 70s when a lot of mistakes were made and we think people are paying for it now. We would like to see that not repeated."

Bennett described the proposal as a transition from a top down command and control approach to one were local governments decide to how a community will grow. The transition is from government to government. Bennett would ban local referendums on changes to a comprehensive plan, a requirement sought by supporters of last November's Amendment 4 ballot initiative.

"We are not going to let them do a local referendum on growth management like they did in St. Pete Beach. It just about destroyed their community over there. Destroyed their economic development so we are not going to let them do that. That was the defeat of Amendment 4 last year."

The rewrite would lift the requirement that Developers prove their projects are financially viable, population projections would lose weight in determining growth decisions and there would be a 2-year ban on impact fees for commercial developments. Bennett said market forces should have more influence in how a community grows. Sitting in the audience was a University of Florida graduate student visibly reacting to Bennett's comments. Given an opportunity to testify Estelle Robichaux delivered a 57 second critique of market-based economics and environmental policy.

"One of the things the market has issues with is externalities. And over the past 50 years if we learned anything is that the market does not incorporate environmental externalities very well. An ecosystem while there are local components to it is not local. An ecosystem is broader and in the state of Florida we have ecosystems that take up hundreds and thousands of square miles. And there is no way a local community is going to incorporate all of that thought into development of planning processes when it is in juxtaposition too economic concerns."

Committee members complimented Robichaux vocabulary and voted 8-to-zero to send the measure to its final committee stop.