Peltier column: State growth regulators take to the road

MICHAEL PELTIER

— Nearly 26 years after lawmakers enacted Florida’s first comprehensive planning laws, state growth management regulators are touring the state to tell all who will listen that the rules have most definitely changed when it comes to growth.

In a series of workshops that continue this week, Department of Community Affairs Secretary Billy Buzzett and others are meeting with local government officials, planners, environmental groups, developers around the state to pass the word that Tallahassee 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.

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 told a standing-room-only audience of 300 last week during a whistle stop in Polk City. “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 21⁄2 years to find any time-bombs in this legislation,” said Charles Lee of Florida Audubon.

Lawmakers earlier this year made a series of change to growth management laws first enacted in the 1980s. Much of the recent legislation removed from state review a number of local planning decisions.

Besides eliminating a statewide comp plan upon which all local plans were required to adhere, the bill removes transportation, public schools, parks and recreation provisions from concurrency review. In fact, local governments can do away with concurrency altogether in many cases.

Among the areas of most concern are 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.

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.”

Audubon’s Lee said the proof the only certainty is that the state is going to take a less active role in local growth decisions. Just how much less remains to be seen.

“I predict a long process will be needed to determine what the state’s domain will be,” Lee said.

Email Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net.

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