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Legislator pulls no punches in development debate

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Ocala Republican Rep. George Albright took the gloves off Thursday at the Capitol, delivering a scorching diatribe against Florida environmentalists and saying state land planners are people "that have never had a real job or owned land."

"We're running up the cost of development to prop up a cottage industry of environmentalists," charged Albright, who is proposing a massive overhaul of the rules that regulate where Florida's new subdivisions, strip centers and shopping malls should go.

"I have watched (the state Department of Community Affairs) become one of the last vestiges -- along with public education -- of holdouts of big government liberals," he said.

"We're gonna let all these people that have never had a real job or owned land in Florida have control over every inch of this state, and your city and county governments no longer really have anything to say about it."

Albright's bitter rant was the first salvo in a battle between environmentalists and legislators who want to revamp the state's 1985 Growth Management Act, which requires every community to write a comprehensive plan to detail where development should go.

Albright's bill would create 67 local boards to make development decisions, cutting the state DCA out of the process. The boards would be made up of political appointees who serve terms of one year each.

Some of the lawmakers on the House Community Affairs Committee, where the bill was introduced for discussion, praised Albright for his courage in taking on growth management. So did lobbyists for the development industry.

Decisions about growth shouldn't be made by "some bureaucrat living in a monastic cubicle," blasted Rep. Ken Sorenson, R-Key Largo. "Where's the balance? If you stand up and talk about this, you're against the manatee, you're against the environment."

In the face of such strong political rhetoric, the environmentalists who testified Thursday stuck to the details of the proposal at hand. They are pushing for a yearlong study commission to recommend changes to the growth management act.

Several lawmakers said they want to make changes to the state's growth-management system now, while experienced legislators are still in office. Because a new law that limits political terms, more than 60 lawmakers will be leaving the Legislature next year. Albright is among the lawmakers who will leave office next year.

New lawmakers, said Rep. John Morroni, R-Clearwater, "are going to be at the mercy of lobbyists. It's time to do something now, with the experience and history of this Legislature."

Morroni has served in the Legislature since 1992.

Environmentalists, state Department of Community Affairs Secretary Steve Seibert and some moderate lawmakers are trying to head off a free-for-all, frenzied rewrite of growth management during the remaining days of this year's legislative session.

"It's too far, too fast," said Seibert, who shrugged off Albright's insults about state workers.

Like most Tallahassee battles over money and power, this one is starting nasty and promises to get nastier.

Longtime environmental lobbyist Dave Gluckman, who represents the Florida Wildlife Federation, said Albright's words were not a surprise.

"This is typical of George," Gluckman said. "He's the one that expressed grave concern that the United Nations would take over our rivers and control our local governments under the American Heritage Rivers program. Anybody who is that paranoid would have similar feelings about other things."

Albright declined to speak to the media.

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