Legislators pushing ahead with major rewrite of growth management laws

Feb 23, 2011

The following article was published in The Florida Current on February 23, 2011:

Legislators pushing ahead with major rewrite of growth management laws

By Bruce Ritchie

The Florida House and Senate both are taking up major rewrites of the state’s growth management laws, according to the key committee chairmen in each chamber.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs and laying off most employees while moving its planning functions to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Meanwhile, a coalition of groups, including the Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is drafting proposed law revisions.

Last week, Sen. Mike Bennett, chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, told the Florida Tribune, “You will expect a major growth management bill to be coming out of the House and the Senate.”

On Wednesday, the House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee held a three-hour workshop on growth management, covering three major areas of growth management law: State review, schools and transportation.

Rep. Ritch Workman, subcommittee chairman, said after the meeting that his committee is committed to a “complete overhaul” of the state’s growth management laws.

“When I’m done, I want a growth management platform in the state that sets overall goals and expectations in the state, allows cities and counties to manage their own growth and is immune to any kind of legal challenge,”  said Workman, R-Melbourne.

DCA Secretary Billy Buzzett has proposed reducing the state’s review of local growth management to focusing on state and regional resources. He also wants to increase the state role in planning for large private landholdings.

At the House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee meeting, a panel that included Buzzett, former DCA Secretary Linda Loomis Shelley and representatives of the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities struggled to define those state resources.

“That is the question,” said Lester Abberger of the 1000 Friends of Florida environmental group. “We have struggled with it for years.”

Other speakers said interstate highways, military bases and significant natural areas such as the Everglades are some of the resources that the state must protect.

“It’s hard to come up with a list that everyone is eventually going to agree on,” said Eric Poole of the Florida Association of Counties

Shelley, chairman of the Associated Industries of Florida council on growth management, also said developers were being forced by cities and counties to pay for backlogs on road-building and up to $20,000 per home for new classrooms in schools regardless of whether the homes are built or there are students in those homes.

“When I build a house, I don’t build a kid,” Shelley said.

Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, said growth management critics want the state to get out of the way to provide flexibility for cities and counties, then they complain to the Legislature about “crazy local governments” that need to be controlled.

“That’s the policy choice we are going to make this year: Are we going to bring it [growth planning] up to the state and standardize it or are we going to hand it over to local governments and let them do it,” Randolph said. “I’m comfortable either way. Let’s just do it.”

Workman responded that school districts are hiding behind state law and committing “extortion” to get developers to pay for “shiny new schools” that aren’t needed. He said growth decisions and responsibility to voters for them should remain local. 

“If you want to do school concurrency — no problem it’s their [local officials’] job,” Workman said. “That way their school officials can be unelected if they are standing in the way of development and growth — if the people want development and growth. Not everybody wants it.”