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    Senate panel pushes through growth bill

    The massive rewrite of growth management rules has several more stops in the Senate.

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- State lawmakers on Wednesday made their first attempt to revamp the laws that govern Florida's growth, and the effort was quickly criticized as rushed.

    "We don't even know what's in this bill," complained state Sen. Steve Geller, a Hallandale Democrat.

    But Geller and the other lawmakers on the Senate's Comprehensive Planning, Local and Military Affairs Committee voted for the bill anyway, saying they were told by Republican leaders that the growth management bill needed to move -- fast.

    Senators got their first glimpse of the massive rewrite of Florida's growth management laws just hours before they were to vote on it. The bill is more than 100 pages long and had 43 proposed amendments.

    After weeks of waiting, lobbyists representing planning groups, builders, environmental groups and local governments were told that if they stood to testify, they might risk watching the bill die in committee. All the speakers opted to waive their time and keep their opinions to themselves, hoping to get a chance to testify when the bill reaches its next committee stop.

    With four weeks remaining before the 2001 Legislature adjourns, the future of Florida's 16-year-old growth management system remains uncertain. Some of the proposed changes are dramatically different from what's in current law. Some are minor.

    The House of Representatives will review its version of the growth management rewrite in a committee today.

    Lawmakers are searching for the best way to help local governments make better planning decisions to stop Florida's endless sprawl.

    Gov. Jeb Bush and his Republican allies in the Legislature are pushing two key concepts: one, to require local communities to consider how crowded their schools are before they approve new development; and two, to develop a formula that gauges the true cost of new development, called "full-cost accounting."

    Florida has long tried to tie school planning with development approvals. But the state has made it voluntary. The Senate measure would, for the first time, require counties to make the link. It would give local school boards the ability to raise more tax dollars to help pay for school construction. And, if schools were too overcrowded, communities would have to turn down new developments or get the developer to pay for school improvements.

    "This doesn't result in the first school being built. There's no funding," complained Doug Buck, lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association.

    Local governments that refuse to link schools and growth management could risk losing state school construction dollars under the measure that passed the committee Wednesday.

    The bill, which has as many as six more committee stops in the Senate, would make other changes to growth management laws. Among them, it would:

    Require local governments to link development planning to the availability of drinking water supplies.

    Establish "Rural Stewardship Areas" to keep land in agriculture. Landowners would be eligible for state payments to manage their land.

    Create a task force that would come up with a formula to gauge the cost that a particular development exacts on community services.

    Designate some cities and counties as "Livable Communities." Communities that demonstrated sophisticated land planning would be eligible for reduced state oversight in planning.

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    From the Times state desk