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Senate committee gives legs to bill to repeal much of state's growth management laws

A sweeping rewrite of 26 years of growth management law received swift approval from the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Thursday, opening the way for the most substantial change in Florida development law in decades.

The essence of SB 1122 is to shift the review and regulation for development from the state to local governments with the repeal of Chapter 9J5, the foundation of the 1985 Growth Management Act. 

The goal is to "promote the transition of authority from the top down command and control approach,'' said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradeton, the sponsor of the bill. "We have found that the state of Florida is not as good at managing downtown Fort Lauderdale as downtown Fort Lauderdale is.''

The concept of concurrency – a requirement that schools, parks and roads be built along with the development that uses them – would be left up to local government, allowing them to decide whether to allow existing resources to be strained by the new development or not.

“Nothing at the local level changes. If they want to impose more currency or less concurrency they can,’’ Bennett said, adding that the previous development rules inhibited development in the inner city areas.

Population projections for development would no longer be pivotal to growth and the state would no longer determine whether a community needs more growth. “The market will do that,’’ he said. “We think on a local basis they can do that.”

Local governments would no longer have to prove whether their development plans are financially feasible and the formulas for determine how various interests pay for roads is altered.

It bans local governments from imposing any impact fees for non-residential development for two years. “We’re trying to create jobs; we’re trying to build jobs,” Bennett said.

The bill bans local communities from requiring a local referendum vote on changes to comprehensive plans, making illegal what the failed Amendment 4 on the November ballot sought.

“We’re not going to let them to a local referendum on growth management, like they did at St. Pete Beach,’’ he said. “They just about destroyed their community over there, destroyed their economic development opportunity.”

The bill even reaches into the issue of climate change, removing requirements for energy efficency and greenhouse gas emissions.

Few voices stood to oppose the measure, as the committee left about 20 minutes for testimony and debate.

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, noted that the bill changes the definition of “urban sprawl,” making it “easier to say you’re preventing urban sprawl.”

Bennett said that the issue of determining the bounardies for development, or the “urban service boundaries,” should be left to local government.

“We’re trying to give power back to the local government,’’ he said. “We just don’t believe it’s the state of Florida that should tell anybody what the boundary is for their development.”

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Fort Lauderdale, asked what role regional planning councils will have under the new system. Bennett said the only change will be to include business and commercial entities on their boards.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said he tried to find fault with the bill “and I really didn’t find many of them.” He then urged the committee to finish the debate in the minutes left in the committee and vote out the bill to move it out.

With more than a dozen speakers lined up to speak, Rich was heard whispering: “This is so unfair to people.”

The committee quickened its pace. The Nature Conservancy told the committee that large developments do not get adequate review and, because of that, they opposed. Charles Pattison of 1000 Friends of Florida thanked Bennett for working with them but said they still opposed it.

Estelle Robichaux, a graduate student at the University of Florida’s school of natural resources and environment, rose to challenge Bennett’s prediction that the market will dictate conservation and development.

The committee passed out the bill.

“The market is known not to be perfect,’’ she said. “Over the last 50 years we’ve learned that the market does not incorporate environmental externalities very well. An ecosystem, while there are local components to it, is not local. An ecosystem is broader.”

She said that Florida’s ecosystem take up thousands of square miles and local communities won’t take into consideration the concerns of the environment when it is focused on its economic development.