Gov. Charlie Crist just made it easier to pave over what's left of Florida. By signing SB 360 into law Monday, the governor clearly values the voices of developers and big business — and their campaign checks for his U.S. Senate campaign — over the concerns of environmentalists and local governments. Crist set growth management back more than 20 years and left a permanent stain on his legacy.
With a stroke of the pen, the governor removed the most powerful tools to manage growth, require road improvements and prevent overdevelopment. No longer will governments be able to require most developers to pay for the road improvements needed to handle the traffic their projects generate. No longer will enormous developments such as those proposed for the site of the old Bay Area Outlet Mall in mid Pinellas or the controversial SunWest Harbourtowne in northwest Pasco be subjected to a broad study of their effect on neighboring communities. And in another gift, key state and local development permits are now automatically good for another two years.
For developers, Christmas came on the first day of June. Floridians will be paying for it for years.
Once again, this was another botched opportunity for the governor and the Legislature to look further ahead than the next election and the next campaign contribution. There was broad agreement that transportation concurrency is unnecessary in urban settings such as downtown St. Petersburg or Tampa. But this new law goes well beyond any reasonable definition of urban and will end transportation concurrency in small towns and suburbia as well. There also was broad consensus that the Development of Regional Impact process was too cumbersome and needed an overhaul. The simplistic answer in this new law is to essentially abolish the entire DRI review, leaving communities adjacent to giant projects outside their own boundaries with little recourse for coping with the fallout.
In a short news release, the governor's office does not attempt to justify those failures. It says "incentivizes entrepreneurs'' when it should say "free pass to developers.'' It notes that the law requires the study of a new mobility fee that developers could pay for transportation. But there is no requirement for a new fee. If the Legislature would not keep transportation concurrency this year, it is naive to suggest, as Crist did, that it would adopt a new mobility fee next year with elections looming.
Signing this bill into law is one of the most serious mistakes Crist has made since taking office in 2007, and it is at odds with the rest of his record. The governor who appointed growth management expert Tom Pelham to head the Department of Community Affairs has just eviscerated growth management. The champion of restoring the Everglades has just endorsed urban sprawl. And the booster of better mass transit and visionary rail systems has just become Governor Gridlock.