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Is Florida without growth management what you want?

If you think that Florida needs to throw out its laws about growth …

If you think Florida's best answer to the economy is to open our state to developers wider than we have in decades …

Then you're in luck, because a growth bill passed by the state House on Wednesday does those things. This is probably the biggest thing the Legislature will pass in 2009.

If, on the other hand, you remember that Florida choked on wild, sprawling construction from World War II until the 1980s …

That it wasn't until the Growth Management Act of 1985 that we finally lifted a finger to require the roads, schools, water and other services to build a decent state …

Then you should be horrified.

What the state House did Wednesday was essentially to gut the Growth Management Act for big chunks of the state.

Big cities and counties could allow growth without worrying about whether roads and other services can handle it.

Small counties would be laid open to entire "new towns" of big development without the usual review.

The name of this bill, the House's revised version of Senate Bill 360, is ironically titled the "Community Renewal Act." It would be better titled the "Katie Bar the Door and Strip Mall Act of 2009."

There are so many loopholes and exemptions that if a developer somewhere in Florida did accidentally get stuck under the old rules, he should probably fire his lawyer.

Loopholes for "urban service areas." Loopholes for "community redevelopment areas." Loopholes for "dense urban land areas." Loopholes for anything designated as a "job creation project."

The weirdest part of the House debate was the utter righteousness of the members. This was no sneaky, secret attack on Florida's growth laws — it was a full-frontal act of war, done shamelessly in the open.

The bill passed 76-41, with the Republican majority mostly in favor, and the Democratic minority mostly opposed.

It passed over the objections of Tom Pelham, the secretary of the state Department of Community Affairs, who has held that job under two Republican governors.

Yet the members dripped with contempt for Pelham during the floor debate. When one huffed that a legislator should resign rather than "defer entirely to what a secretary of an agency says," the House floor burst into applause.

It would not be a shock now to see the petulant House renew bills that would abolish Pelham's agency.

This was not the deal.

It was not the deal struck carefully between the state Senate and the Department of Community Affairs, which allowed for some reasonable loosening of growth rules in "urban infill" areas.

It was not the deal that leaders of the House told me in person they were going to pass just a few weeks ago.

The Senate now gets another chance. It either can stick to the original deal, or it can adopt the House changes.

After that, it will be up to the governor to decide whether to veto it.

If this is the future that you want, you should congratulate your state representative. If it is not, then you should call your senator and the governor to stop it — and remember it in next year's election.

VIDEO: Watch Howard Troxler and Dan Ruth discuss the issues before the Florida Legislature.

Is Florida without growth management what you want? 04/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 12:28pm]
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