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Do Developers Love Hurricanes?


State and local politicians have made it very easy to rebuild after hurricane damage so the same historic land development mistakes can be repeated after a storm has passed. Developers have had vast influence on the legislative process for decades, funding political campaigns whose candidates favor less land use regulation and gutting any form of growth management.

For example, Rep. Tiffany Esposito (R) has introduced House Bill 267, which “Requires governing bodies to create a program to expedite the process for issuing residential building permits,” thus allowing for less oversight, less planning, and faster development.

Recent decisions by the Sarasota and Manatee County Commissions clearly demonstrate developers' influence on our local land use decisions. Sarasota Commissioners gave the green light to three comprehensive plan amendments that, if approved, will increase building on the Siesta Key Barrier Island, and Manatee County Commissioners gutted wetland buffer requirements so more density can be built in flood-prone areas.

The trend in packing as many people into the coastal high-hazard area is not new. During the Rich Scott administration, growth management at the state level was virtually eliminated, becoming nothing more than a rubber stamp approval for changes in local comprehensive plans. Water Management Districts have had their budgets slashed; Development of Regional Impacts have disappeared, as has the Department of Community Affairs, only to be replaced with the Department of Economic Growth.

The recently released Natural Resource Defense Council report: Repeatedly Flooded Homes Demonstrate Policy Failures correctly identifies the problems of repeatedly building in flood prone areas: “States that have been battered by repeated hurricanes have seen the biggest jump in these flood-prone properties, with communities in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas topping the list.”

The insurance crisis, which is mostly a crisis for fixed and low-income residents, has made it a lot more expensive to live in Florida. Even if new development were to pay for all the facilities and services needed, future maintenance of County owned infrastructure will become the responsibility of the taxpayers. Maintaining a sound County fiscal policy may include a sharp reduction in granting additional development rights in Sarasota.

Development industry representatives will certainly suggest that one solution to the current insurance problem is to build our way out of it, citing statistics suggesting that as more development occurs, more will pay into the insurance pool and rates will stabilize or even drop.

Such convoluted logic is likely to appeal to the majority of our legislators, so the real problem of increasing densities in hurricane evacuation zones will not have to be seriously considered.

Even "smart growth" is not sustainable. There is a limit to the resources the earth can support, just as there is a limit to the populations of humans and automobiles. To delude ourselves into believing that growth is still possible and desirable if only we label it "sustainable" or color it "green" will just make it more painful to admit that the concept itself is logically self-contradictory in a finite, non-growing ecosystem.

Concurrency requirements for traffic, water and sewer, schools, and infrastructure are either nonexistent or have significantly declined. If the plan is not to have children in our community, affordable housing is not an issue, and hurricane evacuation is something not to worry about, then Manatee County and Sarasota County are wonderful places to live.

As we have witnessed the “gutting “of the Sarasota 2050 Plan, it is difficult to envision that our local governments can adequately address the future need for affordable housing, safe hurricane evacuation, existing traffic and road deficiencies, and schools in the planning process. It must be recognized that there are limitations to the amount of development that can be sustained in Manatee and Sarasota County.

Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.


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