Florida Lawmakers Gut Growth Rules That Helped Florida Growth Pay For Itself

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mosaicF4tampa2 In: Florida Lawmakers Gut Growth Rules That Helped Florida Growth Pay For Itself | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Photo by Jim Tatum.

One of the first actions Rick Scott took was to remove development restrictions from counties.  This BUSINESS-BEFORE-ALL-ELSE  has continued with DeSantis in spite of the fact that our water management districts are telling us that there is not enough water to go around.

Instead of restricting pumping permits, the districts and DEP charge ahead blindly spending their time concocting at times crazy schemes to find more water where there is none.

We have already begun to see the costly results of this stupid “we-can-take-care-of-our-own-water” fallacy begun by Scott, as tourists now shun Florida and its green algae and red tide.

Read the original article here in the Daytona Beach News Journal.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
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– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Florida Lawmakers Gut Growth Rules That Helped Florida Growth Pay For Itself

News-Journal editorial board
Flash back to Florida in the 1970s.  “Keep on Truckin’” stickers were everywhere. Polyester double-knit was considered a valid fashion choice. Developers were in their glory, lining up rows and rows and rows of houses — ready for the newcomers who were arriving at a rate of around 1,000 a day.

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There were rudimentary environmental rules in place, but they were often circumvented. People understood the need to protect wetlands and wildlife habitat, but they applied that designation to resources somewhere else — not the newly drained swamp or freshly felled forest under their own homes. Everyone assumed Florida’s rivers, lakes and shorelines would remain sparkling clean and teeming with marine life, even as municipalities dumped millions of gallons of barely treated wastewater daily into water bodies like the Halifax River and development leapfrogged into natural areas.

In short, not all was well in paradise. Unrelenting sprawl created suburban areas so poorly planned that newly built roads became clogged with traffic within a few years. Local maps, particularly along the coast, showed city boundaries tangled up in each other as every municipality fought to claim uninhabited land for its own future tax base. Schools, roads, emergency response and other critical local services became overloaded. Local leaders were forced to raise taxes on everyone in order to foot the bill for the resources the newcomers needed.

And the Everglades caught on fire.

Does any of this sound good to you? Because it’s the direction state leaders have been herding the state for the last few years. In 2021, those nudges became a flat-out shove. Florida’s protections against bad (or non-existent) planning, unchecked development, environmental degradation and blatant profiteering by land barons lie in shreds. Without a dramatic change of course, Florida’s future looks grim — and the margin for error is much thinner than it was 50 years ago.And we aren’t sure Florida’s leaders can pull off the dramatic save that was executed in the early 1980s.

A shared vision

This is how it happened. Somehow, amid the frenzied drive to grow, a coalition of state leaders — Republicans and Democrats —  realized the state was inflicting permanent damage on itself. Florida didn’t need to shut down growth, but it did need to plan, in a way that ensured every community had adequate resources, including water, roads and schools. They recognized that development in one area usually had an impact on nearby communities, and that some proposed developments were so massive they needed more intense regional review.

The entire discussion culminated in a new law with an unsexy title: the Growth Management Act of 1985. Under that sweeping legislation, cities and counties wrote comprehensive plans, road maps for growth that designated future residential, industrial, commercial, agricultural and natural areas. It was a chance for each community to determine its own destiny — but the stakes were high. Under the new law, the plans were transmitted to a state agency with the authority to hold local leaders to those plans.

It was a crowning achievement, a national model.

It all falls apart

Within a few years, lawmakers were quietly chipping away at the law, or set forces in motion that hampered it — such as a sweeping 1995 law that allowed property owners to sue if their development plans were “inordinately burdened” by local growth-management decisions. Meanwhile, the comprehensive planning process was shot full of loopholes that let many developments slip through with little or no state-level review. The carnage really accelerated under Gov. Rick Scott, who portrayed growth management and environmental protection as an existential threat to jobs and economic development. For all his environmental talk, Gov. Ron DeSantis has done little to stop the rapid dismantling of the state’s growth-management process.

The comprehensive planning process has taken a series of mortal blows. The agency that once oversaw community planning was dismantled and shut down under Scott; comprehensive plan amendments run through the Department of Economic Opportunity, which usually rubber-stamps them. Nearly every state-level checkpoint against unbridled growth has been dismantled, and state law has been rewritten to tilt the scales against local growth-management efforts. But it wasn’t dead enough for lawmakers in 2021. Among the laws passed during the recent session:

  • A law that allows property owners to claim monetary damages if a local regulatory decision “inordinately burdens” their development rights — even if no plans to develop the property are currently on the books. As the advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida points out, this law could cripple efforts to prepare communities for the impacts of sea-level rise and climate change.
  • A law that increases — by a multiple of five — the size of development that can be approved without state-level review. Granted, that review was already weak. But it deprives citizen activists of external reviews of projects slated for their communities, and takes away an opportunity to voice their concerns and objections.
  • A law that strangles the ability of local governments to make growth pay for itself, by putting heavy restrictions on the ability of cities and counties to raise impact fees. This law may be the most baffling: Lawmakers decided that it was better to raid the bank accounts of current Floridians — their constituents — than to roll the costs of growth into the houses and condos that are being snapped up by newcomers and investors.

Look at what’s happening across Florida. Water bodies such as the Indian River Lagoon are  fouled by runoff from millions of lawns and tens of millions of vehicles. Beloved species such as the manatee are dying in record numbers. Cities are hollowing out, with commercial development vaulting into the outskirts, leaving behind acres of empty storefronts and decay. And vacant land is being plowed under on a daily basis.

We have clear and ongoing evidence that residents hate the abandonment of smart-growth principals. In Volusia County, that showed up in the 2020 election for county chair, where an “establishment” candidate was trounced by a candidate whose populist message included a strong appeal to environmentalists. Floridians want growth to pay for itself. They are angry when roads become badly congested or when schools have to squeeze too many kids in a classroom. They mourn to see trees topple or wild areas vanish.

Floridians need to speak up. If Florida’s leaders don’t change course soon — if there’s not another quiet revolution — the battle to save this state may soon be irretrievably lost.

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