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Session of Sprawl" in Tallahassee

Christmas is coming very early for Florida developers as the 2023 legislative session moves forward. In fact, there are so many goodies and giveaways for homebuilders moving through committees that sustainable growth advocates are calling it the Session of Sprawl.

On Wednesday, TBT reported on SB 540, which would allow prevailing parties to recover attorney fees in challenges to comprehensive plans and plan amendments. Such challenges are already rare just because of how expensive the challenges themselves can be, which is often compounded by legal tactics designed to drag them out and empty the pockets of those who dare make them, long before the suits are resolved.

SB 540 and its House companion bill (HB 359) are designed to move the needle from rare to non-existent. The bill passed its first committee stop 6-3 on Wednesday, while House Bill 359 has already been passed in two committee votes.

HB 41/SB 856, also known as the "Protect Developers from Citizens" bill, which has also drawn the ire of sustainable growth advocates, likewise moved forward on Wednesday. If passed, the bill would extend an existing prohibition on local referendums regarding comprehensive plan or map amendments (with an exception for those specifically authorized in a local charter provision enacted before June 2011) to any initiative that regards land development rules, and make it retroactive.

That first prohibition was passed after sustainable growth advocates put fortha referendum in 2010 that would have required all comprehensive plan and map amendments to pass via referendum. This extension of that protection seems to be targeted at two communities that are attempting such action, including Venice, where a group called Venice Unites is promoting a referendum to overturn recently-adopted development regulations that heavily favor new development.

In other words, the sort of developers decide everything ethos that has completely taken root in Manatee County, looks poised to expand statewide. Once that happens, you can bet that more and more developer-bought-and-paid-for local governments will move to adopt the exact sort of "regulate development according to the bare minimums set by the state" standards that are being pushed by development interests in Manatee County right now.

Meanwhile, you’ll notice that the weekly red tide updates we have been publishing in our Weekender edition on Fridays have only changed in terms of whether it is worse or not quite as bad as last week, despite the fact that it's late March. Erasing more permeable land, as Manatee County Commissioners did gleefully on Thursday, means that more and more of the rainfall meant to replenish our aquifers winds up getting carried into our waterways, bringing along all of the nitrogen-rich runoff that feeds algal blooms with it.

That’s to say nothing of the infrastructure shortfalls, including both painfully apparent ones like the lack of adequate roadways to handle the gridlocked traffic caused by such sprawl, and the less obvious ones such as what happens in the long run when we continue to starve Florida’s unique aquifers from being replenished as designed both by nature and the old growth regulations that were designed to remain in balance with it.

The developer-sponsored puppets who pass such legislation routinely cite all of the reasons there is so much demand to move to the great state of Florida. However, you can bet that they will have pulled up stakes–wallets fattened by years with their snouts buried in the trough–by the time such policies have completely turned our paradise into a toilet bowl.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of ourweekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County governmentsince 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Clickherefor his bio. His 4th novel, Burn Black Wall Street Burn, was recently released and is availablehere.


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