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2009 - Sarasota Heral Tribune
Politics Today: Crist signs
controversial growth bill
H-T Capital Bureau
reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger reports that Gov. Charlie Crist just signed
into law a controversial change to the state's growth management
According to the governor's
The Community Renewal Act was
taken up as a means to stimulate Florida's economy and create jobs for
our people. The Community Renewal Act does the following:
1. The bill
incentivizes entrepreneurs to undertake economic development projects
in designated urban areas.
2. The bill directs
a study of a mobility fee system to replace proportionate share
payments paid by developers for transportation impacts.
3. The bill also
allows economic development projects to stay "in the pipeline" by
extending the validity of development permits for two years.
4. The bill makes
changes to our affordable housing programs to ensure affordable homes
are available for those in need, including young adults leaving the
state foster care system.
5. Finally, the
bill encourages green building and storm resistant construction.
Here is background on the bill
from a story written by H-T reporter Dale White last month, headlined
"Growth bill seen as needed incentive, or blatant sellout" :
It was the ultimate 11th-hour
With just minutes to go in the
2009 session, state legislators revived and passed one of the biggest
changes to Florida's growth laws in decades.
The sweeping bill, which Gov.
Charlie Crist is soon expected to sign into law, will:
* Automatically allow
developers in seven of Florida's 67 counties and nearly half of its 410
municipalities to add more residents and traffic without expanding or
adding roads. They will instead pay a fee, which the state has yet to
decide how to calculate.
* Enable other counties and
municipalities to designate urban areas where they, too, can overlook
new developments' impact on roads, if they choose.
* Eliminate reviews by state
and regional regulators of major urban developments that could impact
roads and services in nearby cities and counties.
Builders and lawmakers see the
bill as an incentive to build in urban areas because builders would
still have to pay for new roads and other impact fees associated with
rural areas. They also say it will make it faster to develop property,
boosting the economy.
But watchdog groups decry it as
a blatant sellout to developers, the kind of profit-driven policy that
has created problems in Florida for decades.
By not forcing developers to
deal with the traffic problems created by their construction, the state
will dump road widenings, traffic signals and other costly byproducts
of construction into the laps of local governments, who are already
struggling to keep up with basic services.
And by eliminating regional and
state oversight on some of the biggest projects, it will be far more
difficult to streamline the impact of those projects on schools,
highways and other regional institutions.
"If Charlie Crist wants to
avoid being called Governor Gridlock, he should think twice about
signing this bill into law," said Dan Lobeck, president of Sarasota
County-based Control Growth Now. "This is terrible legislation. The
Legislature is telling us traffic congestion is good for us."
But the bill's sponsor, Sen.
Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, himself a real estate developer, said he
expects Crist to sign it.
"Growth management is tough,"
Bennett said. "No matter what you do, someone is upset."
The bill removes transportation
impacts as a factor in development approvals in cities and counties
averaging at least 1,000 residents per square mile.
Pinellas, Broward, Seminole,
Miami-Dade, Orange, Duval and Hillsborough counties qualify. Sarasota,
Manatee and Charlotte counties do not. Yet, with the exception of North
Port, every municipality from Palmetto to Punta Gorda does.
The bill allows counties and
cities that are not automatically eligible to avoid the transportation
requirements by creating exception areas in their growth plans.
Current law allows them to do
so, but only with the Florida Department of Community Affairs' consent.
Bennett said the bill also
reinforces all local governments' right to opt out of its provisions by
adopting their own laws about how to deal with the traffic impacts of
Even so, the bill's effects are
expected to be deep and far-reaching.
Sprawl, infill or both?
To comply with growth rules
now, a developer may be required to add turn lanes to an existing road
or even build a new road.
For example, Manatee County is
requiring Wal-Mart to help with intersection improvements because of a
Super Wal-Mart on University Parkway.
Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for
the Florida Home Builders Association, contends that growth rules
regarding transportation have largely "prevented urban infill and
created sprawl situations" -- particularly with residential development.
Meeting road capacity
requirements in urban areas can be costly, said Charles Pattison,
president of 1000 Friends of Florida, a group that monitors growth
issues. As a result, Florida has seen developments sprout farther from
its cities -- in areas where existing highways can accommodate more
cars or, if a road must be built or expanded, land is cheaper.
Bennett cited the Parrish area
in Manatee County, where growth has exploded, as an example of suburbia
spreading across former pastures and groves.
Now state growth laws have
kicked in and developers who want to continue to build in Parrish must
help pay for expanding U.S. 301.
Manatee County Commissioner Joe
McClash said Bennett's bill could boost the redevelopment of blighted
cities and result in more transit- and pedestrian-oriented
neighborhoods. "The key is to redevelop in a way that is less dependent
on the automobile."
But Lobeck dismissed the idea
the bill will swap sprawl for infill development.
"To say this will stop suburban
sprawl is a sham," Lobeck said. "There is nothing in the bill to
restrict sprawl in rural areas."
Cash instead of asphalt
Pattison's organization thinks
the Legislature erred in defining 1,000 people per square mile as a
"dense urban land area."
Counties and cities with an
average density of just one home per acre will qualify, he said.
Douglas Porter of the Growth
Management Institute, a think tank in Maryland, warned the bill may
allow dense development in the wrong areas.
Yet he saw merit in the
argument that transportation requirements that are too demanding may
drive development into the countryside instead of "the very places you
Pattison said it is unclear
whether the legislation could encourage annexations, as developers try
to get their properties included in qualifying cities.
In some cases, annexations of
undeveloped land could cause some urban areas to fall below the 1,000
person-per-square mile minimum, Pattison said.
Instead of being required to
lay asphalt, the bill requires urban developers to pay a "mobility fee."
By Dec. 1 state regulators must
determine how the fee can be calculated and spent.
Bennett said the goal is to
replace the transportation impact fees that many counties and
municipalities now impose on new construction. He wants a fee that
better accounts for a specific development's traffic impacts.
A McDonald's, for example,
mainly caters to its surrounding neighborhoods and does not attract
cross-town traffic like some other commercial enterprises, Bennett
said. Its mobility fee should be adjusted accordingly, he said.
Sarasota County Commissioner
Jon Thaxton warned that if the fees are inadequate, existing taxpayers
will be subsidizing growth.
Fewer levels of review
Bennett's bill also changes the
rules for "developments of regional impact" in urban areas.
Generally speaking, DRIs are
big developments that affect areas beyond the city or county where they
Riviera Dunes, an approved
development in Palmetto that includes riverfront highrises, is a DRI
within a city. Lakewood Ranch and Palmer Ranch are prominent examples
of DRIs in unincorporated areas.
Currently, DRIs must be
reviewed not just by the local jurisdiction but a regional planning
council and the state.
Developers complain that the
review process is cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. Depending
on the project's size and scope, a developer may pay from $250,000 to
millions in fees for DRI approval.
Bennett's bill strips away
regional and state planning reviews for DRIs where local governments
will disregard transportation impacts.
"We're getting away from all
the bureaucracy," Bennett said, adding that so many agencies did not
need to review the same plan.
Yet less oversight concerns
groups that prefer firm growth controls. Sarasota could approve a
10,000-home development that congests Manatee County's roads, Pattison
said. Although they may have good reason, other authorities would not
be able to modify or stop the project.
"What are you going to do for
these cross-jurisdictional impacts?" Pattison said.
The DRI exemption worries
Thaxton as well.
"That is a monumental and