BRADENTON – Florida's gutting of its Department of Community Affairs was sold as a way to promote "home rule," giving towns and counties greater control over developing their communities. However, now that such review of last resort has mostly vanished, it seems legislators want to go after the so-called home rule oversight as well. Two bills currently moving through the legislature would strip power away from local governments by weakening their control of comp plans.
HB 703 and its companion bill SB 1464 have smart growth advocates up in arms. The bills would preempt the authority of local governments to protect wetlands and springs or regulate storm-water runoff for agricultural lands (retroactive to 2003); prevent them from requiring a super-majority vote on comp plans and amendments; and preempt them from reconsidering a comp plan amendment where development has been approved on "bona fide agricultural lands."
The bills would also allow land owners agreeing to water storage to receive 50-year consumptive use permits; Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) to receive 30-year consumptive use permits (if located within Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern), while also exempting Sector Plans and DRI master plans from Chapter 373 analysis regarding water management.
The proposed bills are just the latest in a long line of efforts to minimize oversight at both the state and local level. Florida SB 372, sponsored by Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), seeks to ensure that large development projects would no longer be reviewed by the state when they are proposed for counties with a population of more than 300,000 (which would include both Sarasota and Manatee).
Such an exemption already exists for eight Florida counties with populations over 900,000. Under Galvano's bill, exempt areas only have to have 400 people per square mile. Currently, density in Florida is defined as 1,000 people per square mile.
If one or both bills are signed into law, it could have a dramatic impact on the way land development is considered, as well as the tools available to those who oppose a project, whether they are ordinary citizens or even representatives in local government.