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Legislature poised to repeal much of Florida's growth law

You can easily make the case that the turning point in Florida's modern history was a law called the Growth Management Act of 1985.

So it is no small news that in the year 2011, the Florida Legislature is about to repeal it in large part, with gusto.

By the early 1980s, Florida was choking to death from decades of anything-goes growth. I was living in West Pasco County at the time and saw the results firsthand. We were the poster child for it.

Crumbling, curbless, two-lane roads always jammed with cars. Failing sewer plants thrown up by fly-by-night developers.

"Schools" that were just collections of house trailers. Drainage so poor that every rainstorm ruined somebody's house. U.S. 19 from Holiday to Hudson was a sluggish, ugly gash of driveway cuts from endless strip centers.

Florida's local politicians not only were powerless to stop it — some were actively in cahoots with the people doing it. Soon after I got here, the chairman of the Pasco County Commission was indicted. Not long after that, a majority of the Hillsborough County Commission was indicted, too.

But Floridians were waking up. In the 1980s, we began to pass a series of forward-thinking laws to protect Florida's surface waters, environment and wildlife, and to manage the state's growth.

The big kahuna of all these laws was the Growth Management Act. It declared that each community in Florida had to make sure it had the roads, the schools, the water, and many other things needed before it could allow more growth.

But today's Florida Legislature is a far different animal from the 1985 version. It is dominated by young Republicans who do not know the past. Their sole guiding principle is that somebody should be able to make money, which they gussy up with the claim that it "creates jobs."

This brings us to House Bill 7129 and Senate Bill 1122.

The House bill is a done deal. The House passed it on April 21 on a vote of 86-31, largely along party lines. Now it is up to the Senate to decide whether to go along.

Here are some major points of the House bill:

• Local governments no longer have to consider the need for roads, schools, parks and recreation when they permit growth. They can, but they don't have to.

• Local governments will be able to change their "comprehensive plan" whenever they want to allow growth.

• The state's power to review the decisions by local government will be reduced and speeded up. The state cannot take the side of citizens who are challenging a local growth decision.

• Local governments will be more limited in what they can ask developers to pay for.

• To make sure that there is never another citizen revolt as in St. Pete Beach, the law forbids any community in Florida from holding a popular election on growth decisions.

• There will be an automatic seven-year extension of approval of all major developments, known as "developments of regional impact." There are special protections to protect phosphate and lime­rock mining.

And a lot more.


This is the Legislature that the people of Florida elected. Presumably this is what the people of Florida want. At any rate, if the Senate passes this law, it is what they will get. The effects on our state will be felt for decades to come.

Legislature poised to repeal much of Florida's growth law 04/27/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 5:52pm]
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