The legislation would have local committees, not the state, oversee comprehensive development plans.
By JULIE HAUSERMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000
TALLAHASSEE -- An Ocala lawmaker will propose a massive overhaul of Florida's development rules today, setting the stage for a hot new environmental battle in the state Capitol.
Republican Rep. George Albright's bill would weaken the state's role in regulating growth and delegate decisions about new development to political appointees who would serve one-year terms.
Under the measure, planners at the state Department of Community Affairs would no longer review changes to local comprehensive plans, the blueprints that guide growth. Instead, 67 "local reviewing councils" (one in each county) would have the final say about where new housing developments, golf courses and shopping malls should go. Some of the political appointees would be picked by local governments, some by the governor.
Albright's 88-page bill would also change the way citizens can challenge their comprehensive plans, requiring mandatory mediation in the courts for people who oppose developers.
Albright's bill already has goodies in it for special interests, and it hasn't even been opened up in committee for amendments yet. Hotly contested language that deals with the state's sovereign submerged lands -- called "a big land grab" by Attorney General Bob Butterworth -- is slipped deep into the bill text. So is specially crafted language dealing with parimutuel interests, military bases, pipelines, rail lines, mining and ports.
Albright, an attorney who has represented developers, argues that Florida's 1985 Growth Management Act has too much red tape and hampers developers who contribute to the state's economic prosperity. He says local governments should be trusted to make their own decisions about development.
If past growth management battles are any indication, Albright's proposal is likely to encounter stiff opposition. In surveys and hearings all over the state this year, Floridians urged DCA Secretary Steve Seibert, a former Pinellas commissioner, to keep the state's regulatory role strong.
"We are very concerned," said Marcia Elder, executive director of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association. "Doing this kind of thing in the rush of the 60-day legislative session is not a way to end up with good public policy."
Elder and other planners and environmental lobbyists favor a competing measure, sponsored by Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Sharon Merchant, R-Palm Beach Gardens, that would set up a "Grow Smart Florida Study Commission" to suggest changes to the state's 15-year-old Growth Management Act.
"Obviously, you're trading local review for what was state review," said Charles Pattison, executive director of 1000 Friends of Florida, a growth-management watchdog group. "That's the kind of thing that needs some extended debate."
Gov. Jeb Bush -- a former Miami developer -- said Wednesday that he had not yet reviewed Albright's bill. But he said he would support it if the Republican-led Legislature "reached consensus."
In the Senate, Lee called the growth-management review "probably the most important quality of life issue we will deal with as members of this Legislature."
Lee, a developer, is proposing a 25-member growth management commission that would make recommendations for the 2001 Legislature.
"I do think growth management has worked," he said. "It could work better. We have neighborhoods that are being blighted and cannibalized by urban sprawl."
Albright is scheduled to present his bill in a the House Community Affairs Committee this afternoon.