There can be no question that an insidious effort to dismantle growth management is bad for the state when both the Hillsborough County Commission and 1000 Friends of Florida are asking Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the legislation. The commission rarely stands up to developers, and 1000 Friends is a stalwart supporter of smart community planning. But they are aligned this time against SB 360, which would create more traffic jams and urban sprawl. Crist should stand up to the pressures from the development community and veto this bill, which would be particularly harmful to the Tampa Bay area.
In Pinellas, Hillsborough and a half-dozen other large counties, developers no longer would have to pay for road improvements to accommodate the traffic many of their projects generate. In the Tampa Bay area alone, that would mean the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for road projects. State and local governments already are delaying road projects because of a shortage of public money, so don't expect taxpayers to pick up the costs that should be paid by developers. The result would be even bigger traffic jams and longer commutes.
Supporters of this bill claim it would steer development into densely urban areas, limit the spread of outer suburbs and create the critical mass needed to support other transit options such as bus service and light rail. That would be great — except it is not true. In fact, SB 360 does the opposite. For example, transportation concurrency requirements would not just be eliminated in downtown Tampa. They would disappear in a much larger area that includes Carrollwood, Brandon, Seffner, Riverview and Sun City. Allowing more development in those areas without money to improve the roads would be ridiculous.
It would be one thing to eliminate transportation concurrency requirements in truly dense urban areas. But the bill broadens the definition of those areas to include more than 230 cities and areas that have roughly one house per two acres. That certainly is not urban. Only a Florida state legislator could endorse such nonsense with a straight face, and Crist should see this for what it is: A developer's dream to build more sprawling suburban housing developments without worrying about paying anything to handle the extra traffic.
This isn't the only destructive issue in this legislative hodgepodge:
• The Development of Regional Impact reviews for large projects would be scrapped in these same counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, and hundreds of cities. There would be no accountability for the way one local government handles a large development that affects a neighboring city or county.
• Portable classrooms and charter schools could be counted when considering whether school capacity needs are being met. Charter schools can easily appear and disappear, and portables are among the most obvious symbols of unplanned growth.
• The existing density for residential land could not be changed in many unincorporated areas. That would handcuff counties that want to manage development by, say, replacing mobile home parks with fewer traditional houses or by increasing the number of units in appropriate places.
• Certain development permits issued by state and local governments would be automatically extended for two years, undercutting local control.
• Local governments could not require security cameras to be installed in businesses, such as St. Petersburg recently required of some convenience stores.
By themselves, all of these issues would be cause for concern. In a package, they would be disastrous for Florida.
Legislators exploited the economic crisis to reward developers and mount a frontal assault on growth management. Do not buy the claims that government bureaucracy is stalling development that fuels Florida's economy. More than 300,000 housing units sit vacant and millions of square feet of retail space are approved but unbuilt. Overdevelopment, not growth management rules, helped create this collapse.
The governor says he loves Florida. He has been forward-looking in protecting the environment, supporting mass transit and pushing for renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. This legislation would do great harm to the state and directly contradicts his goals. Crist should send a strong message by vetoing SB 360 and demanding a better vision for Florida's future than longer traffic jams, fancier strip malls and sprawling subdivisions.