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Galvano bill takes aim at regional planning

If Pasco County approves a subdivision of 2,000 homes on its border, should it review and discuss the project with the state and adjacent counties, like Hernando?

After all, those 2,000 homes would produce “regional impacts” like 20,000 daily trips, an externalized cost that wouldn’t just be paid by Pasco, but Hernando and surrounding cities and towns as well. Currently, the state provides a review process in which those surrounding jurisdictions can report and discuss those costs.

But under a bill that barely passed Senate Appropriations Thursday, 9-5, that review of “developments of regional impact,” or DRIs, would be eliminated for seven counties, bringing the total number to 15 that would be exempt from such a review.

SB 372, sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would exempt seven counties with populations greater than 300,000, including Pasco, Sarasota and Galvano’s home county of Manatee. The exemption is already in place for eight counties with populations of 900,000 or more — including Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

“At  the heart of the whole issue, you do have additional cost and time associated with the DRI process that perhaps in 1972 was appropriate,” Galvano said. “The counties that have to go through the DRI process are less attractive to developers. Someone going into Hillsborough could avoid high cost that they would encounter in Pasco.”

Time is money in the development world. And the time it takes to review the project was seen by several members of the committee a prime reason why they believe the DRI process is onerous.

But the review process is invaluable for adjacent jurisdictions, who otherwise wouldn’t have any way to discuss anticipated costs from the neighboring project, said Eric Poole, assistant legislative director for the Florida Association of Counties.

“The DRI process has gotten a bad name,” Poole said. “It’s not a regulatory program. it allows all the parties to come together and figure out how the project will affect the region.”

But getting all parties in the same room takes time, and that concern trumped any for a more deliberative regional planning process.

“Do you have any idea on what it costs in terms of time to pursue a DRI through the layers of DRI, and the cost?” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, asked Poole.

Lee, a  homebuilder, was one of nine Republicans who approved it. Five voted against it, including Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Senate Appropriations Chair. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

But it’s not looking good for Galvano’s bill. It still has the Senate’s Rules committee before it heads to a floor vote. And its companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has yet to be heard at its first House committee. When asked Thursday afternoon about why his bill hasn't advanced, Gaetz walked away and wouldn't comment.

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, chairs the House's Economic Affairs Committee, so he oversees all three committee stops Gaetz's bill must pass through to get a floor vote in the House. Gaetz and Patronis have been rivals for the Senate seat being left vacant by Gaetz's father, Don, but Patronis said he hasn't weighed in yet on the bill. He said he doesn't know why it hasn't advanced past the first stop, economic development and tourism, which is chaired by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

So with the House prospects looking dim, perhaps senators are just indulging Galvano, who’s considered a sure bet for Senate President in 2018.

Galvano has said he hasn't discussed the bill with its developers, including the politically influential Carlos Beruff, who has contributed at least $3,000 to Galvano's reelection campaign this year and is chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Last year, Manatee County commissioners made things more difficult for that project, which includes a convention center and hotel on Sarasota Bay. They moved the boundaries of a so-called "urban service area,'' making it harder to develop. Galvano's bill would eliminate urban service areas.