Development proposal stalls over pilot plan

A late amendment could unleash unregulated growth, foes say.

Published May 4, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers and state officials are deadlocked over a proposed pilot program that would significantly curtail the state's oversight of growth plans for Tampa, Pinellas County and other exploding communities around the state.

The impasse on HB 7203 could spell disaster for legislation that until last week included elements that developers, cities, state growth leaders and some environmentalists pretty much agreed upon.

But under an amendment introduced by Sen. Daniel Webster on Wednesday, several urban areas would be relieved from requirements they submit their growth plan changes to the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency charged with regulating growth.

The Florida League of Cities agrees with the change in principle partly because it strengthens local control and could enable municipalities to avoid getting tangled in state bureaucracy.

But the Community Affairs Department, environmental groups and even some bay area planners worry the measure could perpetuate unregulated growth and damaging sprawl.

"It's kind of like a teacher and homework, " said Ray Chiaramonte of Hillsborough County's Planning Commission. "You'll do a better job if you know the teacher is going to look at it. As planners, we behave more responsibly knowing the state will look at it."

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, is trying to remove Tampa from the list of communities in the program.

New Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham met on and off with legislators Thursday in an effort to find a pilot program he thought might work better. Pelham wouldn't say whether he would ask the governor to veto the bill if it makes it through the Senate. As originally crafted, it made minor changes to a 2005 law that set up requirements for local government agencies like schools and cities to coordinate expansion plans with the county and with one another.

Pelham favored some of its earlier provisions, including one that changes the law so that developers are responsible only for repairing their environmental impact, not pre-existing problems.

But, Pelham said, "the good things the department came up with are not necessarily enough to outweigh everything that's been added since."

The newly amended and increasingly confusing bill was on the House agenda Thursday, but leaders postponed its discussion until today. It was unclear whether it would make it into discussion before the session ends at 6 p.m. today.