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Robert Schenck on wrong side of development debate

Florida's biggest business organizations are trying to push laws that will streamline environmental permitting and weaken rules that control sprawl.

And as Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Mary Ellen Klas wrote last week, the path of some of these bills may be cleared by the extreme revenue crunch. Horse-trading for support, for example, to close sales tax exemptions and raise the cigarette tax, she wrote, may mean more votes for bills such as one dismantling the state agency that oversees growth management.

Reading about all this, I wondered where Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, fit in.

Actually, I should say I wondered precisely how Schenck fit in, because I had a general idea. Schenck, who represents most of Hernando County and parts of Pasco and Sumter, ran on an unapologetically pro-business platform. He works as a real estate broker. And last year, he proposed a law that would cut from 90 to 45 days the time state regulators have to review some wetlands permits.

The partial answer to my question is that he filed the bill again.

He defended this bill (H.B. 73), as he did last year, saying it would apply only to targeted uses, such as factories or distribution centers. It would help attract these businesses, he said, by removing obstacles to construction.

On the opposing side, Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida said, as he did last year, that this bill is "stupid and unnecessary.''

That's especially true because another, more widely supported, streamlining measure would help attract business by coordinating state permits. Unlike Schenck's bill, this measure would not cut review periods to the point where the Department of Environmental Protection wouldn't have enough time to do its job, which is what the agency's representatives have testified.

Still, Schenck's bill has one thing going for it. It aims to diversify the economy. Some others do little more than encourage the state's addiction to building subdivisions.

H.B. 7049, for example, seeks to do away with the Department of Community Affairs and reassign its duties to other, overburdened, state agencies. Schenck likes it because it would save money.

A second, H.B. 227, would raise the legal standard for justifying impact fees to a "preponderance of evidence,'' making it easier for developers to challenge them in court. This idea's been around for years, and Schenck says he has supported it since he was a Hernando County commissioner.

So, yes, we knew what to expect when we elected Schenck. And if you like these kind of laws, you couldn't have a more committed backer in the House.

I don't like them. In fact, I wonder why, in our rage against bankers, we seem to have forgotten that builders and Realtors had at least as much to do with creating the speculative market and its ultimate collapse.

We need outrage, and when I want outrage, I talk to Lesley Blackner, co-founder of Hometown Democracy, which seeks to put major development decisions directly in the hands of voters.

"I think these (lawmakers) are incredibly stupid and that they don't have any other plan for Florida other than paving over every square inch of the state,'' she said.

Looks that way to me, too.

Robert Schenck on wrong side of development debate 03/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 12:03pm]
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