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Growth management changes bad for Florida

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Earl Starnes

Dear Editor,

In the aftermath of the 2011 Session of the Florida Legislature, there were significant changes to Chapter 163, Part II of the Florida Statutes. This chapter is better known as the Growth Management Act. Florida’s growth management experience began in 1972 with several legislative acts regarding state, regional, local planning, and water management. Taken together, this legislative activity was a historic watershed in Florida planning.

Florida was notorious for its lack of local planning and not until 1975; the Legislature enacted its first local government mandatory planning law. In 1985, came the Omnibus Growth Management Act. As a result, local governments and citizens have become very active in planning. By and large the planning goals of the 1970’s with state oversight through the years have been met; even faced with huge population growths in urban and rural Florida.

The major changes to growth management in 2011 are severe procedural limitations the state review process of local planning and elimination of authority to recommend changes to local plans and amendments. There will be no state comments required for local plan amendments.

There will be no limits to the number or timing of local plan amendments. Plan amendments will no longer require a super majority vote by local governing bodies and no public referendums will be allowed. The state may comment on state and regional impacts of local plans and amendments, but no definitions are included in the new law to guide such comments and, no enforcement is provided.

A very important change in planning requirements is the exemption for concurrency analysis regarding transportation, schools and parks. These exemptions will have a large impact upon future urban traffic congestion, school overcrowding and availability of recreation facilities. These facilities are already stressed in urban Florida.

Regarding development of regional impacts (DRI), new development exemptions included are mining, industrial development, hotels/motels, movie theaters, and dense urban land and land stewardship areas. This further removes the state and regional planners from this decision making process.

The Department of Community Affairs has been abolished by the legislature. Its functions have been assigned to the “state land planning agency,” included in the new Division of Community Development located in the new Department of Community Development. The result will be a significant lack of focus on urban and local planning and development issues.

These changes will certainly have a major affect on local, regional and state planning and development management. There are many changes in legal substance, procedures, and organizations. To this writer, the state’s capacity to cope with its future growth, degradation of environmental quality, and continued degradation of the quality of the urban life will be badly compromised. Local governments need the political backup provided by rigorous state review.

The political rationale for these law and administrative change was to increase opportunity for growth and development and remove the egregious rules holding back Florida’s development industry. It is interesting to note that in 1972 when Florida’s state planning laws were adopted and implemented followed by subsequent generations of planning legislation; Florida’s population grew from 6,800,000 to the 2010 census of 18,537,969. Obviously, this over regulated development industry has coped very well with local and state planning regulation.

Dr. Earl Starnes, Cedar Key