Citing a 2013 Moody’s report, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, recently noted that Florida is poised to again grow at the rate of 1,000 residents each day. Given the history of development issues in our state, whether that is good or bad news depends on your perspective.
The last time Florida experienced such growth, the governor and Legislature felt compelled to adopt the 1985 Growth Management Act. It was designed to deal with the many challenges growth presented to our roads, schools, drinking water supplies, stormwater drainage, coastlines and natural areas. Even with this program in place, Florida still did not keep up with all the impacts of growth.
As we well know, the 2011 Legislature undid much of the 1985 law in the name of job creation and economic growth. It abolished the Department of Community Affairs, along with its most important implementing rules, made transportation and school “concurrency” optional, minimized state oversight of planning issues in favor of local government, and made it more difficult for citizens to challenge inappropriate plan amendments. At the same time, drastic budget cuts to the nation’s largest land protection program (Florida Forever) that complements growth and development decisions was added to the mix.
Now that we are emerging from the economic downturn, what is the 2013 Legislature doing? More of the same.
For starters, it continues to propose a loosening of related environmental controls. Among other things, the damaging House Bill 999 would give oil and gas pipelines quicker, more streamlined reviews, ease approvals for large mooring fields for up to 100 boats, and support the governor and Florida Cabinet’s sweetheart 30-year sugar lease approvals within the Everglades Agricultural Area.
While the mantra of the 2011 Legislature was to give more control back to local governments, the 2013 Legislature seeks to take more away. Bills such as HB 321 and HB 319 would restrict local governments’ authority to decide how to pay for local transportation infrastructure and transit, even over objections from 1000 Friends of Florida, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.
But there are reminders that citizens can make a difference. Thanks to public outcry, several bills intended to curtail state and local acquisition of conservation lands have died — for this year. Also dead is a proposed damaging amendment to HB 999 that would have taken away the ability of local governments to adopt fertilizer ordinances.
HB 999 could have a floor vote this week. The Senate version (SB 1684) has a final committee vote today. The Legislature does not seem to understand that protecting the quality of life that has attracted our existing 19 million residents is linked to how, when and where we grow. Continuing down this path would invite unintended consequences that will cost us all, economically as well as environmentally.
Weak local and state growth management and environmental controls, especially when the next “boom” may be coming, would be a dangerous policy for which taxpayers would pay. This next wave of growth can be accommodated if strong growth and environmental controls are maintained and funded, and if payment of reasonable developer impact costs and effective local and state land acquisition and protection programs remain viable. As one sage has observed, tourists don’t come to Florida to see our strip malls.
Florida must plan for growth and its impacts if we are to protect our quality of life, natural resources and pocketbooks. This isn’t just a message for this session. It is one that needs to be carried forward, as special interests have promised to be back next year with the same shopping list of demands.
Charles Pattison is president of 1000 Friends of Florida. It was founded in 1986 to serve as the state’s growth-management watchdog. For more information, visit www.1000friendsofflorida.org.