House agrees to lift most growth management lawsby John Kennedy | April 21st, 2011
Florida’s once-vaunted growth management laws would be sharply scaled-back under legislation approved 86-31 Thursday by the Republican-ruled House, in a mostly party-line vote.
Supporters of the bill (CS/HB 7129) said existing laws have grown outdated and prove an obstacle to a state that still looks to development to help drive economic recovery. Also, they said the state should play a reduced role in local development decisions.
“We have one-size fits all growth management that no longer makes sense,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.
The measure eliminates state oversight of local planning except when proposals with statewide impact are involved.
Standards for citizens challenging development projects also would be toughened, giving builders more leeway to go ahead with projects they can prove will have some positive economic impact.
Concurrency — a provision that requires that schools, parks and adequate roads are in place before development is completed, would be reduced to an option for cities and counties to demand of developers. It’s currently mandatory.
“This will bring us back to the days of poor planning and sprawl,” said Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach.
Florida has had growth management laws on the books since 1972. But they were toughened under former Gov. Bob Graham in 1985 in what was seen as landmark legislation nationally.
Those standards have endured and generally were strengthened in subsequent years.
But lawmakers over the past three years have chipped away at growth management — criticizing the law as overly burdensome and blunting the state’s ability to bounce back from an economic slump caused — paradoxically — by what many agree was overbuilding.
Along with lifting growth management requirements, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature have targeted for elimination the state’s Department of Community Affairs, the main regulatory agency over development.
Legislation (CS/SB 1122) similar to that approved by the House is still waiting a full Senate vote. But senators, too, have expressed support for rolling back growth management laws to jump-start the economy.
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, said Republican leaders were wrongheaded in their approach. Florida still faces a huge backlog of homes and commercial buildings for sale, and is among the nation’s leaders in foreclosures.
“We don’t need any more strip malls, we don’t need any more condos,” Soto said. “Until we get through this foreclosure crisis, our economy will never recover.”
But Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, said it was time for state government to back away from local issues. He called the legislation, the “next generation of growth management.”
Still, House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West said that the only industry likely to improve under the bill is that of criminal defense attorneys, needed by city and county officials who fall under the sway of developers.
“We are overreacting to this economy by trying to wipe out growth management,” Saunders said.