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Use of different growth standard raises red flag

By DAN DEWITT
Published April 22, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - "Allocation ratio" provides the boiled-down answer to the most basic question a community must ask when it decides whether to change its comprehensive plan:

Does the community need more developable land to accommodate future growth?

This was the first issue addressed by county planners when they recommended approving the request for Hickory Hill last week. The allocation ratio provided by the developer, Sierra Properties of Tampa, was the first justification the county Planning Department gave for its favorable decision.

But the method Sierra used is different from the one used by the state Department of Community Affairs, said Mike McDaniel, the DCA's chief of comprehensive planning.

And if Sierra had instead used the state's method, it would have raised the ratio above the level county planning director Ron Pianta established as acceptable in his recommendation.

Neither Pianta nor Wendy Grey, the Tallahassee planner Sierra hired to calculate its ratio, disputed that the method she used might be different from the state's. But both said her approach was a widely recognized option.

"This is a professionally acceptable methodology," Grey said. "There are lots of different ways of looking at it."

But these different ways produce far different results.

The county's estimated population in 2025 - 219,000 - will require a total of 109,450 houses or apartments, according to Sierra's figures.

The county has enough residential land designated in its comp plan to accommodate 172,315 dwellings, including ones that have been built. Divide the second number by the first to reach the allocation ratio: 1.57.

That is "within a range that has been generally accepted by the state for planning purposes," Pianta wrote in his recommendation. "Generally, a ratio between 1.20 and 2.0 is professionally acceptable."

But the DCA's method does not factor in the existing population and occupied lots. It looks only at the expected increase in population and the land available for vacant lots.

"You project out your growth and the amount of land you need for that growth," McDaniel said.

Using that method on the same land and population analysis used by Sierra and the allocation ratio comes out to 2.8, well above Pianta's "professionally acceptable" standard.

The DCA used this same method for an early estimation of the county's needs and arrived at a different conclusion. The ratio of potential vacant lots to the need for future home sites was 2.53, the agency found in a study it did last year.

"There does not appear to be a demonstrated need for additional residential density," the DCA's staff report said at the time.

That study was done to determine whether the agency needed more information from the developer and was never intended to be the final word, McDaniel explained: "Those were rough-and-ready calculations based on some numbers we had available."

He also did not comment on the ratio provided by Hickory Hill, saying he would not analyze the proposed comp plan amendment unless the County Commission approves it and forwards it to his department.

Pianta said the method Grey used was sound because it "looked at the amount of land designated for residential land in its entirety."

But, despite featuring the ratio prominently in his recommendation, he warned against placing too much significance on the number. Commissioners may base their decision on a number of factors, including their own beliefs about whether the county has enough rural land and enough subdivisions.

"The amount of land you designate for development is a value judgment the community and the elected officials need to make," he said. "There is no wrong or right ratio."

Dan DeWitt can be reached at 352 754-6116 or dewitt@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 18:53:46]


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