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Hoping for next boom, lawmakers push to ease more growth rules

With the next homebuilding boom expected soon, lawmakers are still trying to offer incentives to developers to pave over Florida.

Of course, it wasn’t like Florida exploded with growth in 2011, when Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers disbanded the Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw the regional planning in Florida. In that session, they also loosened development rules on large land tracts and gave cities and counties the option of imposing fees that charged developers for the growth they induced.

They took a break in 2012, but developer-friendly bills are back.

On Tuesday, HB 321 passed the Economic Development & Tourism subcommittee. It would prohibit counties and cities fromcharging traffic mitigation fees on business development that is 6,000 square feet or less until July 1, 2016 -- unless the governing boards overturn the ban with a majority vote (an early draft required a super-majority vote).

So that means one tool that local governments have in place, the charging of fees that can help pay for the growth that builders of these businesses cause, will be available only if local officials have the temerity to vote against the development interests that contribute most of the campaign dollars in local races.

“Someone will still have to pay for that road, so it’s either going to be the taxpayer or a large scale development down the road,” said David Cruz, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, which, along with the Florida League of Counties, opposed the bill.

But the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, who is a real estate broker and developer, had the support of the Florida Homebuilders Association and easily passed. (Its companion bill, SB 1716, has been referred to three committees but, as of yet, hasn’t been heard yet. HB 321 has two more committees before it goes to the floor.

“It’s a great bill,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, who also applies free market principles as the powerful chair of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee in helping decide if or how Florida expands Medicaid.

As far as growth management, in Hudson’s view, regionalism is for suckers. Counties and cities are better off competing against one another in a relentless pursuit of growth. La Rosa’s bill gives them that power, Hudson said.

“Quite frankly, you have given (the cities and counties) more self rule and more self determination for them to recognize what is appropriate in their county and how can they compete against the other counties in the state to generate business for them,” Hudson said. “They have the opportunity to see what works in their community, what won’t work in their community, and at the end of the day, they can be aggressive in making jobs and opportunity happen.”