TALLAHASSEE — A sweeping rewrite of 26 years of growth management law received swift approval from the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee on Thursday, opening the way for the most substantial change in Florida development law in decades.
The essence of SB 1122 is to shift the review and regulation for development from the state to local governments with the repeal of the 1985 Growth Management Act.
The goal is to "promote the transition of authority from the top-down command-and-control approach," said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, the bill's sponsor. "We have found that the state of Florida is not as good at managing downtown Fort Lauderdale as downtown Fort Lauderdale is."
The concept of concurrency — a requirement that schools, parks and roads be built along with the development that uses them — would be left up to local governments, allowing them to decide whether to allow existing resources to be strained by development or not. Local governments would no longer have to prove whether their development plans are financially feasible, and local governments would be banned from imposing any impact fees for nonresidential development for two years.
"We're trying to create jobs. We're trying to build jobs," Bennett said.
Population projections for development would no longer be pivotal to growth, and the state would no longer determine whether a community needs more growth.
"The market will do that," he said. "We think on a local basis they can do that."
The bill bans local communities from requiring a local referendum vote on changes to comprehensive plans, making illegal what the failed Amendment 4 on the November ballot sought.
"We're not going to let them go to a local referendum on growth management, like they did at St. Pete Beach," Bennett said. "They just about destroyed their community over there, destroyed their economic development opportunity."
The bill even reaches into the issue of climate change, removing requirements for energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.
Few voices stood to oppose the measure, as the committee left only about 20 minutes for testimony and debate. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said he tried to find fault with the bill "and I really didn't find many of them."
Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, noted that the bill changes the definition of "urban sprawl," making it "easier to say you're preventing urban sprawl."
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Fort Lauderdale, asked what role regional planning councils will have under the new system. Bennett said the only change will be to include business and commercial entities on their boards.
The Nature Conservancy told the committee that large developments do not get adequate review and, because of that, they opposed the legislation. Charles Pattison of 1000 Friends of Florida thanked Bennett for working with them but said they still opposed it.
Estelle Robichaux, a graduate student at the University of Florida's school of natural resources and environment, challenged Bennett's prediction that the market will conserve the environment.
"The market is known not to be perfect," she said. "An ecosystem, while there are local components to it, is not local. An ecosystem is broader."
She warned that if the bill becomes law, local communities won't take into consideration the concerns of the environment when it is focused on its economic development.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.