TALLAHASSEE — After Republican lawmakers openly chastised the governor's growth management chief Wednesday, the House passed a bill that weakens the state's growth regulations in return for encouraging tighter development in urban areas.
The vote, 76-41 along mostly party lines, came after Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham warned that House changes to the Senate growth management bill "will substantially undermine Florida's growth management laws."
In a news release Tuesday, Pelham warned that provisions in the House bill "open up the state's major rural areas to unchecked development," eliminate the requirement that developers have roads in place to serve development and abolish the state review process for large developments "in major portions of the state."
Promoters of the bill said the provisions are needed to encourage development and provide a spark for the state's economic recovery.
"We've been working on this bill for an awfully long time," said Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican who heads the House Economic Development Council. "I'm not hiding the fact that I'd like to see Secretary Pelham find a job in the private sector."
He chastised Pelham for failing to talk to lawmakers about his concerns about the bill.
"To put out a press release without showing your face in the House Office Building for weeks is wrong," said Murzin, a Realtor.
Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Republican developer from Lake Mary, echoed Murzin's sentiments.
He won applause when he said that for lawmakers "to defer entirely to what a secretary of an agency says, I suggest you forfeit your membership in this body."
But Democrats were critical of the proposal and supported Pelham. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando said the state's economic crisis "is no justification to defang our great state's growth management laws'' and warned that the House bill goes too far.
Under the bill, large cities and counties are exempt from the state review in an attempt to channel growth into desired areas. It lifts state requirements for transportation concurrency — the requirement that roads be built before development is approved.
But the bill also allows growth restrictions to be lifted in less dense areas as well, provisions that critics say will contradict the intent of the bill.
"The state has done such a poor job of growth management in 25 years, you have to believe that any tinkering with the bill can't help," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, in Tallahassee for a League of Cities event.
"The whole problem with concurrency is that it's never been funded. If we're going to lift concurrency, you've got to emphasize smart growth in mass transit and there's going to be more state money for light rail," she said.
Pelham has consistently said he supports the Senate's growth management bill but had told the House he opposed many of the provisions of the House bill.
Pelham told the News Service of Florida that he would not answer Murzin's suggestion that he find a private-sector job: "I would rather not respond to personal attacks."
Crist defended Pelham on Wednesday morning.
"I applaud the secretary's effort," he said. "I know as a former legislator … sometimes these bills change in the closing hours."
The bill now moves to the Senate.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com