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State Sen. Mike Bennett

For smart Fla. growth

There is a significant amount of controversy surrounding SB 360, a major overhaul of Florida's growth management laws that I sponsored in the recently completed legislative session. Let me explain how the legislation was revised and why I hope Gov. Charlie Crist signs it into law.

The bill promotes growth in dense urban areas by removing the state required costs of transportation concurrency and the duplicative development of regional impact (DRI) process within those areas. A lot of controversy has surrounded what a "dense" area should be to trigger these benefits. The bill originally defined a dense urban area as 1,000 people per square mile. That affected about 13 percent of Florida's land area and 80 percent of its population. As the bill went through the committee process, concerns were raised that the affected areas were not dense enough. So we narrowed the bill to apply to designated urban service areas within counties and cities with a minimum population of 5,000 having at least 1,000 people per square mile.

There are good reasons to remove transportation concurrency from these areas:

• It is unfair. No development pays to mitigate its impact on local roadways until the number of trips exceeds the level of service set by the local government or the Department of Transportation. Only subsequent developers have to pay to improve or add new road facilities. Moreover, in many of these urban areas it is not physically or financially possible to expand road capacity.

• It encourages sprawl. When a new doctor's office or drug store cannot afford to pay to mitigate its impact on the main road that is already congested from existing traffic, it may move away from the urban center to less dense areas where the roads have not yet reached their level of service capacity to avoid paying transportation concurrency costs. Curbing urban sprawl is a major goal of Florida's growth management strategy. Focusing growth in urban areas reduces vehicle emissions and decreases costs associated with expanding infrastructure into outlying areas.

• Local governments can charge new development for its impact in a way that best suits the traffic needs of the individual community. For example, local governments charge impact fees to developers to mitigate the costs associated with their development.

• Without transportation concurrency, local governments can still control development by not changing land-use types or intensity. The current practice of denying a development that has the proper land use based solely on transportation impacts is unfair to the landowner whose property fits the designated use.

The Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Transportation have already begun looking at an alternate method of funding transportation: a mobility fee. There are workgroups already considering what such a fee would entail, and SB 360 clarifies some of the characteristics a viable mobility fee should address.

The legislation also addresses the DRI process, which is expensive and outdated.

The primary purpose of SB 360 is to encourage urban infill and redevelopment by removing costly and unworkable state regulations in urban areas. Nothing in the bill limits the authority of local governments to adopt ordinances or fees. The bill also states that existing contracts or agreements regarding transportation concurrency will remain in effect. There should not be a sudden stop to any ongoing roadway projects.

In summary, SB 360 targets cities and the urban area of counties with certain minimum population and density requirements. The hope is that by removing unworkable or duplicative regulations, Florida will not be standing in its own way when the economy begins to rebound. This legislation is an attempt to promote both economic development and good planning. I believe we have crafted a balanced approach that will have a positive impact on the future of growth in Florida.

State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, represents parts of Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

For smart Fla. growth 05/22/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 7:03am]

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