Bill cuts state's role in planning

Published May 3, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - State oversight of Florida's fastest-growing communities - including Tampa and St. Petersburg - could be seriously curtailed if lawmakers agree to a pilot program proposed Wednesday.

Under a provision added to HB 7203, Pinellas and Broward counties, the municipalities in those counties and Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, and Hialeah would be a part of a pilot that would significantly limit the ability of the Department of Community Affairs to oversee their growth management plans.

Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, billed the measure as a way to free overburdened community planners from the bureaucracy of state review.

But environmental groups worry loosening control could leave cities and counties with damaging, unwieldy growth.

"The many issues that people are complaining about today - overcrowded schools, overcrowded roads - most of those are the result of very bad planning and development decisions made by local governments ... before you had legislation that brought a state oversight role, " said Charles Pattison, head of 1000 Friends of Florida.

"Our biggest concern is the pilot will be dysfunctional, " DCA Secretary Tom Pelham said. The bill does a poor job of defining the agency's even limited role, he said.

Webster's amendment would make the pilot mandatory for three years for all named governments unless they specifically opt out by a super-majority vote of their councils or commissions.

If the Senate signs off on the measure, the bill would go back to the House for a final vote.