Nearly 26 years after state lawmakers enacted Florida's first comprehensive planning laws, the economic landscape has changed and local governments can take over much of the responsibility for oversight, Department of Community Affairs
Secretary Billy Buzzett told a group of nearly 300 during the second in a series of workshops to discuss how new growth rules will work.
"Perhaps it's time to start thinking about easing up on local governments a bit and thinking about a mid-course correction on what the state will advance," said Buzzett, who has spent the past six months pushing Scott's plan to do away with the DCA
and meld its function in to the newly created Office of Economic Opportunity .
Buzzett and other top state community planning regulators have taken their show on the road, crisscrossing the state to bring local planners, environmentalists, government officials and community activists up to speed on a major rewrite of growth management law passed this year that dilutes state control over many local development decisions and in some cases limits the scope of local review.
The group held a workshop in Sarasota on Tuesday and Polk City on Wednesday, and is going to Gainesville, Saint Augustine, Boca Raton and DeFuniak Springs. Wednesday's session was a combination of information dissemination and handholding as local governments prepare for sweeping changes included in the measure (HB 7207) approved by lawmakers earlier this year that was pushed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Though the details of how the new law will be enforced are still being developed, Buzzett said the major thrust is clear: While necessary in the 1980s and 1990s, the state no longer needs to take a central role in local development decisions as communities, over time, have developed their own set of rules.
"We will continue to intervene," Buzzett said. "It's not going to be every day and it's not going to be on every issue."
That discretion is what concerns some environmentalists and local officials, who see the new law as a work in progress that will only be made clear until after it's been on the books for quite some time. By then, it will be too late to remedy.
"We're going to spend the next two and a half years to find any time bombs in this legislation," said Charles Lee of Florida Audubon
This year's overhaul virtually erased the bulk of the growth management law, first enacted in the 1980s in a time of go-go growth and sprawl.
Besides eliminating a statewide comprehensive plan to which all local plans were required to adhere, the bill removes certain requirements for matching development with infrastructure, such as transportation, schools and parks. Now, local governments can do away with such so-called concurrency requirements altogether in some cases.
Also exempted from state oversight are industrial developments, mining, and movie theaters from previous requirements to submit plans outlining their regional impacts Lawmakers also eliminated requirements that projects be financially feasible, another effort to jumpstart an economy that has been in the doldrums since the housing crash.
"Florida is trying to recruit industry, to diversity, " said Tom Beck, DCA's director of community planning."If you have to wait two years, it's hard to recruit companies and compete with our southern neighbors."
Among the areas of most concern Wednesday were issues involving water consumption and the push to encourage large tract and urban development. The new law will allow developers holding 15,000 acres or more to avoid some of the requirements facing smaller projects and will make it easier to get long-term approval for water consumption.
Local water districts will be limited in the ability to deny such large-scale requests, which could affect the ability of other applicants to obtain necessary water permits later. Beck acknowledged that the rules could favor large landowners over smaller land holders.
Ron Weaver, a land use attorney from Tampa, said the new legislation strikes a much needed balance between strict state control and unlimited local authority on water and a host of other issues.
"What the state is doing is stepping back as parents and saying (to cities) that you're 14 or 15 now and you need to grow up. There is still some parenting, but there is not as much," Weaver said.
Buzzett said the agency will retain control if state interests are at stake, a threshold that Lee said is not specifically outlined.
"I predict a long process will be needed to determine what the state's domain will be," Lee said.
Of equal concern is the move of DCA to the Office of Economic Opportunity, an office created by Scott to promote the state and bring jobs. Lee said it is unclear how DCA's planning function will survive in such a corporate culture. Beck said the agency's role, though focused, will remain the same.
"There are changes, yes, but growth management is not dead," Buzzett said. "There is a very robust growth management (system) still residing in Florida.
POLK CITY, FL -- Admitting that new rules are being made on the fly, state growth management officials on Wednesday told a packed central Florida conference room that the state will remain an active partner in large scale development decisions but will be far more selective in entering the debate over how communities choose to grow.