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DeGrove, father of Florida growth management, dead at 87

Monday, April 16th, 2012 by John Kennedy

John DeGrove, considered the father of growth management laws in Florida, has died at age 87.

DeGrove for many years directed the Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems at Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University. He also an eminent scholar chair named for him in growth management and development at FAU, where he also taught political science.

As Florida’s secretary of the Department of Community Affairs from 1983 to 1985, DeGrove spearheaded the development and legislative approval of the landmark 1985 Growth Management Act and the State Comprehensive Plan. A fifth-generation Floridian, DeGrove also was one of the founding members of the state’s 1,000 Friends of Florida advocacy organization.

In 2001, on the 15th anniversary of 1,000 Friends’ founding,  then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet issued a resolution honoring DeGrove for his “decades of outstanding work on behalf of the people and natural resources of Florida.”

Then-U.S. Sen. Bob Graham at the time said of DeGrove, “I cannot imagine what problems would be facing our state today without your many years of wise counsel to several generations of planners and public policy leaders. There are few people in this state who have impacted each and every Floridian on a daily basis with such positive force as you.” 

The growth management laws enacted during DeGrove’s time in Florida government shaped the state until last year.

 Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned against many of the state’s planning restrictions, signed into law legislation which eliminated state oversight of local planning, except when proposals with statewide impact are involved.

Standards for citizens challenging development projects also were toughened, giving builders more leeway to go ahead with projects they can prove will have some positive economic impact.

The legislation capped preceding three years of lawmakers chipping away at growth management provisions. Critics said the laws were overly burdensome and blunt the state’s ability to bounce back from an economic slump caused — paradoxically — by what many agree was overbuilding.

The legislation last year also eliminated the Department of Community Affairs, the main regulatory agency over development.

Scott signs 48 bills, covering water, Medicaid and growth management

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law 48 bills Thursday, including measures that would add new muscle to Palm Beach County’s obscure Lake Worth Drainage District, overhaul Florida’s $22 billion Medicaid program, and sharply reduce state growth management laws.

The Lake Worth law (HB 741) was sponsored by first-year Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, and gives the drainage district authority to issue taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for canal improvements and construction of a 25-billion-gallon reservoir in western Palm Beach County to hold stormwater.

The water would then be treated and moved through existing canals to South Florida’s thirsty shoreline communities from Wellington to Fort Lauderdale.

Supporters have touted the project as a common sense solution to the region’s environmental and growth management problems. But Scott’s office earlier raised questions about taxpayer liability stemming from the plan, called the C-51 Reservoir Project.

The Lake Worth Drainage District was created 96 years ago to provide water control and supply from Okeechobee Boulevard south to Broward. The district has historically been limited to weed control, maintaining canal banks, monitoring water levels and issuing permits.

But as owner and operator of a reservoir that helps quench South Florida cities and shapes development, while negotiating contracts with other utilities, the district would emerge as a major player in the region’s water management. (more…)

House agrees to lift most growth management laws

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 by John Kennedy

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. (more…)

House seeking two-thirds help for developers

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House members signalled Tuesday they fear being on the losing end of legal challenges filed by cities to 2009 legislation which relaxed growth management standards.

The legislation, SB 360, eased back on state laws requiring developers  to help underwrite the cost of new schools, roads and other infrastructure needs tied to new projects in urban areas. Backers said the shift would help blunt urban sprawl, by giving developers more of an incentive to build within crowded areas.

But cities sued — saying the changes would shift costs away from developers to taxpayers. And a Leon County Circuit judge agreed in 2010, declaring the measure unconstitutional, sending an appeal to Tallahassee’s First District Court of Appeal.

Lawmakers, though, don’t seem to feel good about their chances. 

 Instead, the Legislature’s planned fix will take shape Wednesday with the House expected to try to reenact the measure off the books since the judge’s ruling.

 Powered by super-majorities in the House and Senate, ruling Republicans can revive the costly shift to local governments with two-thirds support. A 1990 constitutional amendment allows lawmakers to pass on such unfunded mandates –but only when two-thirds of each chamber agrees.

“It simply reenacts state law and gives developers and local governments some certainty about the law we passed in 2009,” said Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, sponsor of this year’s proposal (HB 7001).

The Leon court, in its 2010 ruling, said the developer-friendly law would require almost 250 Florida cities to submit comprehensive plan amendments to comply with the law at a cost of $15,000 each, or roughly $3.7 million statewide.

 

Hometown Democracy clears final ballot hurdle

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

It’s taken seven years and as many court challenges, but the Florida Supreme Court today cleared the way for the Hometown Democracy proposed constitutional amendment to be on next year’s November ballot.

The court at last accepted that the cost of the citizens initiative, the brainchild of West Palm Beach land use lawyer Lesley Blackner and Tallahassee lawyer Ross Burnaman, is “indeterminate.”

The proposal would require that citizens approve changes to local comprehensive growth management plans before they can go into effect.

Two previous financial estimates conducted by state economists predicted the change would cost “millions of dollars” statewide, a premise the court rejected because that assumed that local governments would schedule special elections for the comp plans referenda.

Critics, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and business-backed associations, of the Hometown Democracy initiative charge that the proposal will effectively halt growth around the state. They’ve got their own ballot initiative that would require allow voters to challenge comp plan amendments – but only if 10 percent of affected voters sign petitions at the local supervisors of elections office within 60 days of the changes being approved by local governments.

That proposal is still hundreds of thousands signatures short of the required 676,811 needed by Feb. 1 to get on the ballot.

Cities file lawsuit over controversial growth management bill

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A coalition of cities filed a lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Crist and the leaders of the House and Senate over a controversial growth management bill.

The suit charges that SB 360, which eliminates the requirement that roads must be built before development can occur, creates an “unfunded mandate” by forcing local governments to foot the bill for infrastructure like roads.

The lawsuit was filed in Leon County by Jamie Cole, the lawyer who won a lawsuit against the legislature last year over a property tax amendment. The Florida Supreme Court tossed the legislature’s proposed amendment, spurring a special session that resulted in “Amendment 1,” which voters approved.

Read today’s lawsuit here.

Hometown Democracy certified for 2010 ballot

Monday, June 22nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

After more than five years, the Hometown Democracy initiative will finally go before voters statewide on next year’s 2010 ballot.

The proposed constitutional amendment, the brainchild of West Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner, would give voters the final say over changes to their local comprehensive growth plans, decisions currently made by county and city commissions.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business-backed organizations have waged an intense campaign to keep what they call the “Vote on Everything” initiative off the ballot, successful thwarting it from appearing in 2008.

But today’s certification by the Department of State means it certainly will be on the November ballot next year.

Read more about the growth management crusade here.

Ruling sets stage for battle over growth

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida voters will probably face a major decision in 2010 about future development now that backers of a proposed constitutional amendment have won a major court victory.

But the battle over growth, whether at the ballot or in the courts, is far from over.

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a law that let residents revoke their signatures on constitutional amendment ballot petitions. The ruling clears the way for the Hometown Democracy initiative to get on the ballot next year.

The amendment would require that all changes to a city or county long-term growth plan be approved by voters.

“I personally don’t think it’s that radical, but it does go to the heart of the developer power which has the ability to get what they want from city and county commissions,” said Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner, co-author of the proposal. She has spent almost six years and nearly $1 million of her own money to get the initiative on the ballot.

Opponents, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, persuaded the legislature to pass the signature-revocation law specifically to try to thwart Hometown Democracy. They warn that the amendment would cause a permanent recession by halting development.

The high court has not yet issued a written opinion outlining the reasons for its 4-2 decision. But it upheld an appellate court ruling that found the signature-revocation law unconstitutional.

Now, voters may face a virtual Pandora’s box of ballot proposals for 2010.

Floridians for Smarter Growth, backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is considering a counter-initiative. It would let residents vote on a growth-plan change only if 10 percent or more of a community’s registered voters signed a petition.

Meanwhile, the business-backed group Save Our Constitution, funded mainly by Associated Industries of Florida, wants to get an amendment on the ballot that would allow voters to put signature revocation into the constitution.

The competing ballot items are likely to yield one of the nastiest constitutional amendment showdowns in recent history.

“Hometown Democracy is essentially a proposal to freeze the status quo in place. … To say this is an economic catastrophe is probably a gross understatement,” said Ryan Houck, executive director of Floridians for Smarter Growth. “We believe this proposal is so bad for Florida’s economy that we will run a full-on campaign to defeat it at the polls.”

Associated Industries CEO and President Barney Bishop said his group is awaiting the Supreme Court’s formal opinion before deciding whether to ask for a rehearing.

Blackner and her supporters “were unabashed in their willingness to do anything and everything to get this on the ballot,” Bishop said. “But just be prepared. We’re going to use the same tactics they did. So better sleep with one eye open. ‘Cause we’re coming at you.”

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