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Concurrency could spell ruin, say leaders

It may have been the easiest interview ever. With a tape recorder rolling and six members of the North Suncoast real estate, building and development community in the room, all it took was two words: growth management. The group was off and running with a string of mainly critical comments that frequently touched on the ongoing slowdown in the construction industry, a crucial component of the Pasco, Citrus and Hernando economies.

Their comments were directed at the state Growth Management Act of 1985, which comes into effect this year. All three counties, along with local governments around the state, have been required to plan 15 years' worth of growth and enact concurrency regulations that will prohibit construction in areas where existing roads and other services are inadequate to handle more people.

Much of what they said was basically a response to Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Secretary Tom Pelham, the man charged with imposing the state's vision of growth management.

Pelham has been a vociferous critic of initial plans written by Pasco, Hernando and Citrus, particularly of provisions that would allow development of thousands of houses on thousands of acres of former agricultural land, or "urban sprawl," and allow major roads to be lined with strip shopping centers.

He even has taken a few shots of his own: "Local officials have a very difficult time implementing this plan because it has some very strong requirements," Pelham said at a January meeting in Pasco. "You cannot fulfill the requirements of this law without saying 'no' to some people."

With a little prodding from their interviewers (two Times editors and a reporter), the group eventually turned to some of the other issues facing their industry, including the national economy, Northern housing markets and the changing face of the North Suncoast.

But whenever the opportunity arose, they drew the conversation back to growth management. The conversation lasted about two and a half hours. The transcript has been edited. The participants were Sandra B. Counts, Allen Scott Crumbley, David R. Hill, Dara Khoyi, Joseph M. Mason Jr., and E. George Rusaw.

Q.Growth management - what's it really going to be? When are we going to start seeing real impacts and where are they going to be?

A.SANDRA B. COUNTS: I was in Citrus County before the first zoning

ordinance - I watched it come, I watched it go, I watched it go again.

Everything in a way has improved Citrus County, I think. I remember when a lot of people didn't want the subdivision ordinance, yet I wanted it because I thought it made it a better place to live. So, there are aspects of growth management that are going to be good ultimately for Citrus County. There are parts of it I don't like, parts where you really infringe on people's private property rights.

It bothers me, but hopefully the compromise will work it all out. I don't think you're going to see the effects of the growth management

for probably about seven years.

JOSEPH M. MASON JR.: (Hernando County was) not in the business of telling landowners you can't develop your property. We were in the business of telling the landowner that if you want to develop your property, there must be certain criteria that must be met. There must be roads, there must be sewer, there must be water, there must be schools, etc. It seems DCA has taken the opposite tack and said, 'We want to tell people where they can live. We want to tell the landowners in your county which one of them can develop a property. We

don't care if that landowner who's told no may be able to provide

infrastructure. We're going to tell him no anyway. And shoot everybody into the urban center.'

COUNTS: There are so many people who came to Citrus County and bought property like George said, that want to live away from the shopping centers. They want to live away from the town. They came to Citrus County for that rural living, and Pelham telling them that they have to come into the city is not sitting well.

MASON: Another example: commercial. You know, we all joke about U.S. 19 here in Pasco County. It's a bad situation. But, I think - unfortunately for Pasco, Hernando, certainly Hernando, and I don't know about Citrus, but probably Citrus, - (we) have learned that that kind of road planning is inappropriate. Now, what we've done in Hernando is develop a requirement for frontage roads to keep the local traffic off the major arterials, and any transportation planner will tell you that that works. That if you have a frontage road, that most of the traffic going short distances will stay on the frontage road

rather than on the main arterial. Well, DCA says, 'We don't care. It's

immaterial that you plan for all these frontage roads. We don't want

commercial along (State Road) 50 and 19 in Hernando County,' which again seems to me to refute the basic premise that each county should be free to find its own solutions, and DCA should be there not to impose solutions but to make sure that the solutions proposed by the counties actually work.

DAVID R. HILL: I would say that the majority of the development community is the first to admit and the first one out there saying we do need good growth management. Contrary to what may be printed about us or said about us, I think all of us that have been in the business realize we've got to have it or we will in effect strangle ourselves.

Is the state of Florida the right entity to be administering what we in Hernando, or we in Citrus, or in Pasco ought to be doing on a definitive basis? I say no. Hernando County, which I can speak more

closely to, more exactly about, back in 1972 enacted its first zoning

ordinance. And very frankly, I think has done a pretty good job on its own, in updating its planning process, zoning, etc. . . . Planning is not an exact science. I believe DCA is sitting up there with, pardon me, in kind of an ivory tower type setting. . . . I think DCA's main purpose in growth management should be setting out guidelines that are good for the state as a whole, and maybe for developing counties have a different set of guidelines than a more developed county. But for them to come into Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, just to name three, and I don't think we're in the worst shape . . . and try to impose the types of things that they are espousing is ludicrous. This state has become what it is today because of growth. Those of us sitting around this table, in the construction and real estate business, what is the largest industry in this state? Construction. Are we going to slap in the face the very thing that has made us a successful state? And very frankly, I don't think we have too much to be ashamed about. I think we've managed that growth fairly well. I think the concurrency part of this legislation is ludicrous.

MASON: Hernando County has done a damned good job, and quite frankly, I can't point to anything in Hernando County that is not working properly in terms of our growth management. I can't point to anything in Hernando County that is causing any inconvenience to any of our citizens other than the failure of the state of Florida to address transportation needs on the state highway system.

Q.When will the construction industry use its political clout on this issue?

A.E. GEORGE RUSAW: What our leaders in the Legislature and the governor are saying about that is, 'Look, you guys are in the free enterprise system. You're out here making these things happen. You're creating the opportunities. You're making the money. We don't have to address it so long as you are willing to go out and pursue these ventures. You will find a way of making it happen.' And until such time the constituents and the voters of the state of Florida rise up and say something has to be done, which will allow them to enhance revenues, they simply aren't going to do it because of the political

consequences.

MASON: The uproar in Citrus County right now is incredible. And it's there because the voting public is like an old mule. You don't get its attention until you whack it on the side of the head with a 2 by 4, and DCA has just whacked Citrus County on the side of the head with a 2 by 4. And Citrus County has waked up. I'm facing the same problem in Hernando County. Despite what's happening across the border to our north, folks in Hernando County are not really terribly concerned about this. They fell asleep at the hearing. Pasco County is probably three or four months behind Hernando County in this process.

COUNTS: The DCA is an appointed group of people. They are not elected and they actually have the citizens of Florida over a barrel, because they'll put the state into gridlock. You either do what they say to do or they'll stop you from doing anything. . . . There's no use in fighting this non-political group of people. You talk to the people we elected from Citrus County, and every one of them says they have no control over the DCA group. You talk to Dick Locke, and Dick Locke doesn't agree with what DCA is doing. So what are we going to do? Not re-elect Dick Locke?

MASON: (The DCA) has very adroitly pitted city against county. If you will look at the people participating in the various administrative and legal proceedings that are going on across the state, it's very interesting. Florida League of Cities has strongly supported DCA. I wonder why? Because new people are going to be shoehorned on top of existing people. (Cities are) going to get new impact fees; they're going to get some leverage to continue to

develop, to expand their infrastructure (because of urban service areas). On the other hand, the less populated areas of the state and the unincorporated areas of the various counties have not got the number of voters available to agree or disagree with what's going on at the state level. So we've got a situation where most of our population is in the county, in the unincorporated area. But when you start looking at the counties like Hillsborough and Pinellas and Dade, they may have large rural areas, but there is a tremendous population within the municipal city limits. And it's the cities who are DCA's

biggest ally, and it's the cities who have the most voters, and it's those voters within the cities that DCA's playing to. And again, we come back to elected politics. Are the rural voters of Florida going to have a bigger chance of electing the next governor, or are the urban voters going to have a bigger chance? I think without a question it is the urban voters who live in the city limits who have the weight of the vote on their side. So who does DCA play to? It plays to the largest concentration of voters.

Q.It has been shown that growth in one county can affect its neighbors. Shouldn't there be some guiding principles to control this growth that affects others?

A.MASON: Absolutely. I think concurrency, if approached in a reasonable, rational manner, is good. And what's happened in Pinellas County and Pasco County is that the issue of concurrency never really came to the forefront in the planning process. Concurrency just simply means don't get ahead of yourself. Now, there are lots of ways not to get ahead of yourself, and DCA doesn't have a monopoly on the idea of how to avoid that. It's a very simple matter of letting ideas filter through the marketplace of ideas and finding out which is good and which is bad. And there may be a half-dozen ways to skin this particular cat, but let's don't cram the one way down everybody's throat.

ALLEN S. CRUMBLEY: Pasco County is going to play catch up for years to come, simply because 20 years ago we started with all these little bitty houses between $25,000 and $40,000. We have no tax base because of the $25,000 home exemption, okay? So the government, they are going to have to deal with what they have, like the sewers. They've done a good job, and I'll tell you something, they've done a pretty good job building the interior roads that the state does not control.

Q.Will this make Pasco less desirable as a place to live?

A.CRUMBLEY: Look at the growth in Citrus and Hernando counties.

They're all nice new golf course communities or something just under that. They're very nice. We've got a tremendous amount of old subdivisions here. It doesn't take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out that 20 years from now, what are these old subdivisions going to be?

Well, historically speaking, they're going to be slums.

RUSAW: Growth does pay for itself if it's properly planned and funded, and all the figures in Hernando and Citrus County will bear that out. The problem is growth has been made the nemesis to the existing public. Heretofore, everybody has said that your quality of life is going to deteriorate; your taxes are going to go up to pay for all these improvements. This has simply not been the case in these two counties.

Q.What about Pasco?

A.RUSAW: The people who live here in Pasco, who moved in during the years of no planning whatsoever, got a free ride then, and they are still getting a free ride. . . . Yet, they are among the most demanding at the Board of County Commission meetings. You will find this is the case everywhere you go. . . . This is the sort of thing that the public has to be made aware of, that you have demanded greater services, you're living better than you were before, and

growth has been picking up the tab for the biggest part of that. When you insist or let your local leaders curtail growth, now you're going to have to start paying to live in paradise. And when that happens, you will see the Legislature come to grips with it.

HILL: I think there's one other issue that growth management is having a great effect on, and unfortunately, I believe it's industrial growth. This state, most of our counties, committees of 100, chambers of commerce, whatever it is, have programs that spend millions of dollars a year in trying to attract good, clean industry to the state of Florida. Why do we do this? Well, we look back and we get smarter as we go along. Because of our homestead exemption situation, a total retiree growth pattern is not probably a good long-range planning tactic. So, how do you supplement this, but look toward trying to get some good clean industry in. (But) with this Growth Management Act . . . possible customers, possible industries that may be wanting to

locate here for very valid reasons would say, 'Hey, I don't want to touch it, we don't know what we're getting involved in.'

Q.Would you endorse a tax increase to pay for roads and other needs?

A.MASON: Absolutely. Well, let's just talk about concurrency. What are our problems? I don't think anybody has sewer problems from the concurrency standpoint. We don't. The reason is 10 years ago Hernando County adopted a philosophy that it was going to be in the water and sewer business. New development was required even 10 years ago - 15 years ago - to begin the process of meeting concurrency requirements.

But they weren't known as concurrency requirements then, but meeting those things which make sure there are sewer and water available for the development. So Hernando County has done that. There's a real question in my mind about what the biggest problem is. The biggest problem in everybody's mind is transportation as far as concurrency is concerned.

DARA KHOYI: One of the other issues, and I think it's been alluded to here this morning, is the fact that what a developer is is the equal sign between the land and the house. A developer does not pay for anything . . . the homebuyer pays. And what we're doing is we're making home ownership more and more a dream and less and less realizable. The American dream of home ownership is being played with in Tallahassee. Not fairly. Plus, not only is it being played with, but they're telling people how and where they are going to live. And I don't think they have any business (to). What they're doing is,

they're taking away from the free enterprise system the ability of the market to decide what it wants.

Q.Will this cost you money?

A.KHOYI: If the profitability isn't there, the developer is not going to do it. Either the house prices go up or he changes his line of business. Either you can sell a house for more money or you stop.

RUSAW: I've got half a dozen clients right now who have anywhere from small to major projects on paper. They haven't come forward to even present them as zoning petitions yet, because they're waiting to see what's happening. There's a lot of that.

MASON: What developer of any reasonable-sized project is going to rely on the building permit he may get, when the compliance agreement he gets says there will be no vested rights for permits given between now and then? It is a de facto moratorium. We have that here in Hernando County. Developers are simply on hold. And they will be on hold until there is some degree of stability in the planning process.

And they will be permanently on hold in the event DCA gets its way.

Q.What will be the impact of growth management and a slowing national economy on your industry?

A.MASON: The impact of growth management on building permits has yet to be felt. There's an inventory of lots out there that is going to satisfy the need for building permits for probably three to five years. What's happening - what's going to happen because of growth management, not because of the national economy, but because of growth management - what's happening is that inventory loss is not being replaced. So, five years from now, when folks want to begin to think about moving down here, there may not be the choice of lots available that they have now, and you'll find people deciding to go elsewhere.

What growth management is doing is forcing development to larger developers (because of increased time, application processes and other costs).

Q.Is anybody going to be able to borrow money?

A.MASON: What we're saying is that the planning process - the growth

management process right now - is so uncertain that banks are backing away from making commitments (because they don't know if they finance the first phase of a project whether subsequent phases years later would be permitted). What bank is going to loan money to develop a new phase one when they don't know whether in two years or five years phase two is going to crank up, whether that developer is going to be able to execute phase two? What banks are going to do is basically require developers not to phase. In a large project, that's impractical.

Q.Will the demand for new housing continue?

A.CRUMBLEY: I think the growth is great. But I think more important, we need to plan for industry. We need to plan for younger working people.

We need to get out of the business of collecting taxes on houses, especially when a lot of them are at or near $25,000, and start collecting taxes from industry. Industry doesn't create as big a demand on services. But what's happening because of the feeling the people have, the scare, the fear they have about growth management in Florida, is they're stopping at the Georgia line.

Q.Are we seeing a migration now of Pasco retirees moving to Hernando and Citrus counties?

A.CRUMBLEY: We're in a blue-collar retiree area. The white-collar retirees go down to Naples. But that's okay. It's been a great business for us. But now, as southwest Pasco County becomes a bedroom community for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the prices are driven up a little bit. The working people out there pay a little bit more for their homes and have a lot more expenses, and so the retirees are having to go north. That's why you can still get a $10,000-an-acre piece of land up in Hernando County and develop 300-400 units, while down here it's going to cost you $25,000-$30,000 an acre to buy that

same piece . . . the retirees are not really concerned about being 30 or 40 minutes from Tampa as a working person who is working in Tampa is.

RUSAW: Those folks up there who make the move to more upscale properties than they did 10 years ago are selling their property. The problem is, we would all think, gee, that's all wonderful and great.

The problem is that guy has enough money to go to Naples and other parts of Florida, so we're splitting the market up. It's a smaller market, and we're having to share it.

Q.So will your market share be reduced?

A.RUSAW: Everybody's going to do a little less business. There will be less business now. And I think what is happening is that we are all having to become a little bit better at what we do. There's the same amount of us trying to make a living providing the same service, and those of us who will command bigger market shares will do a better job with a product or marketing organization as a whole.

KHOYI: But the fact is if we cram people into existing population centers, or we try to, we're not going to be in business very long.

Q.Will more builders go out of business?

A.COUNTS: You know where the small businessman is - it's hard to compete because we price so many of the small ones out, and I'm probably the perfect example of it. I ran an independent real estate company for 11 years. It was getting tougher and tougher without a name. I franchised 13 months ago.

Q.If you could tell the governor one thing, what would it be?

A.CRUMBLEY: I do believe that somewhere beyond our individual counties, there needs to be a review process - whether it be at DCA or at the region. There needs to be a review process to evaluate whether a county's plan has a reasonable prospect to work when adopted, or, down the road, whether it's working. But beyond that, DCA needs to be told to stay out of the aesthetics of planning and involve itself in the functions of planning.

Q.Can local government recognize problems from its neighbors and learn from their mistakes? Or does there need to be some oversight so one county's problems don't spill over to another area?

A.MASON: We would invoke Pasco more than we would invoke Pinellas.

We can see across the border. I think there needs to be some monitoring from outside. I don't think any local government should be given carte blanche to do what it pleases with the simple planning mandate and make it work. Because some local governments probably won't do it properly. But I think a local government ought to be given the opportunity to develop within its boundaries the way it views its community in a fashion which meets its vision, its collective vision

of its future, so long as that collective vision of its future doesn't run contrary to providing residential and commercial properties (with) infrastructure support.

COUNTS: The state has to assume responsibility, and there has to be

coordination. Pasco can't do what they want with 19 and have gridlock, and Hernando develops beautiful service roads on 19. . . . There has to be some kind of state (limit) here, but not a state dictator.

MASON: I firmly believe that the governor has taken a political position that is popular with more people than those of us in our positions willingly admit. We see the need, and we're willing to bite the bullet that's necessary to be bitten to resolve that need. But Joe Lunchbucket and Susie Widow, they don't see the need.

COUNTS: And those of us that survived the '70s and again the early '80s, we know exactly what happens when the construction industry is slowed down. I think the early '70s weren't quite as bad as the early '80s. I know in '81 and '82 we were getting calls from every handyman just trying to make a living just to feed his family. We were getting calls from carpet people, everybody having an interest in a house being sold or a house being built, because a lot of people were out of work. Tallahassee says they don't care if your family's being fed.

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