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New Florida Law Nixes Rezoning Requirement For Affordable Housing

industrialhousing.jpg
Tom Flanigan
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Under the new Florida law, affordable housing developments would be allowed on industrial-zoned tracts such as this now defunct printing plant in South Tallahassee, with no rezoning needed.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed just over two dozen bills into law on Tuesday, June 9. The objective of one new law is to promote more affordable housing in Florida. But independent urban planner worries there could be unintended outcomes.
The bill passed by a wide margin in this year's Florida Legislative Session. It has several provisions, but there's one that Trey Price, the executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation thinks will really jump start affordable housing construction.

"It states that local governments can place affordable housing in commercial and industrially zoned areas of their cities and counties without having to go through all those zoning changes that usually are necessary. I think that's likely a good change."

Mainly, said Price, because it not only gives local governments more flexibility, but will greatly speed up the process.

"Hopefully that will give local governments another tool to be able to better accommodate their housing needs in a quicker manner, rather than having to go through the rezoning process that requires a lot of notice, public hearings and all of those in order for zoning changes to occur to change it to residential."

And that, cautioned independent urban planner Tony Biblo, is potentially the problem with the new law. Biblo, by the way, spent several years as a planner in Leon County's Growth Management Agency.

"The neighbors of the affordable residential areas can be heavy industrial uses, creating all sorts of problems for the foreseeable future because the area's not rezoned."

Which is exactly why, Biblo added, zoning laws were created in the first place; to ensure homes wouldn't be built right next door to factories, mills and waste treatment plants.

"That's something that's typically not allowed now because industrial zoning districts have businesses that create all sorts of adverse impacts. And sometimes there are problems, such as fires and explosions, oftentimes environmental and safety hazards."

Biblo also had concerns that the new law might allow a little too much flexibility, meaning a potential for mischief by local officials.

"The bill doesn't have any details, it doesn't require local governments to go through any sort of process to make this happen."

This, argued Biblo, isn't the same as those ambitious reclamation projects that turn old industrial brown fields into attractive new housing developments.

"Some of your more interesting and expensive areas in all the United States were at one time industrial. But to just say we're going to take an area that's currently industrial and pop some residential units in the middle of it, it's not the same thing."

Biblo also feared such mixed residential/industrial areas won't be a good investment for those residents who buy into them. He also worries they'll become one more vehicle to keep low income minority families to themselves. The newly-signed statute takes effect July 1st.