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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009 11 years ago

Shedding light on renewal

Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham sets the record straight on the Community Renewal Act after opponents and editorial boards misrepresent the law's key provisions.
by: Jay Brady Government Editor

Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham sets the record straight on the Community Renewal Act after opponents and editorial boards misrepresent the law's key provisions.

The Community Renewal Act was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 1 to help spur the economy by relaxing some of the most strict land-use regulations.

But Senate bill 360 has proven to be a misunderstood piece of legislation in a short period of time, perhaps purposefully so by its opponents.

Florida Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham is at the center of enforcing the new regulations.

“It is probably the most significant growth management legislation since the 1985 Growth Management Act, and local governments need to know how the legislation will affect them,” Pelham says. He adds that the business community needs to be aware of how the changes will affect them, too.

One of the key elements in the new law covers transportation concurrency exception areas (TCEAs) designated within urban service areas for about 200 cities and eight counties, including Pinellas County and the urban service area of Hillsborough County.

Concurrency laws require that infrastructure be in place to handle the impacts of new development and drive up costs for residents and businesses that move into the developments.

The Review caught up with Pelham recently following his presentation on the new law at the annual state conference of the Florida Planning and Zoning Association.

Q: There's been a lot of opposition; 1000 Friends of Florida and others are claiming that SB 360 promotes sprawl and it will make taxpayers foot the bill. So how is this so if the law directs growth to dense urban areas and developers will still be paying impact fees and proportionate share and all that is still in existence? Can you set the record straight on that?

A: It's a very complicated bill, not the best drafted bill in the world, so it's very easy to read it and get confused or not understand what the bill is saying. There was legitimate concern about the definition of dense urban land area, but other provisions of the act shrink that. It's not an entire county that's subject to it. It's only an urban service area.
I think there's been a misunderstanding about whether the bill eliminates all requirements or just eliminates state-imposed requirements. This bill eliminates state-mandated requirements, but leaves local governments with the home-rule power to make their own decisions about this. There's just been a lot of confusion about that and there are a lot of people, not just 1000 Friends, who don't understand that yet.

Q: Every editorial from the St. Pete Times to the Palm Beach Post to the Miami Herald, they all keep saying that developers don't have to pay for anything in these transportation concurrency exception areas any more. It's obvious that they haven't read the bill or talked to you.

A: There will be developer representatives who agree with that. (Laughter) I don't agree with that and I think it would be absolute chaos if we interpreted this law to mean we're sweeping away everything. What this did was remove a layer of state-imposed regulation. And if you don't want to do this now as a local government, you don't have to. As a local government if you want to continue something like this, you can do it.

Q: Once this becomes effective in a few weeks, if a developer comes in and wants his permit, do you interpret it then as long as he pays his fees and meets all other requirements that local government cannot refuse to issue the permit because of a transportation concurrency level of service issue?

A: If the existing local comprehensive plan has provisions like that in it, then yes they can deny the development. If the local government doesn't want to keep that system in place, it can remove it from its comprehensive plan.

Q: So, if a local government wants to keep that level of service requirement in place, they can.

A: That's right.

Q: What do you see as one of the biggest benefits of 360, just containing sprawl, is that sort of the big item?

A: I think the concepts of directing and encouraging development into urban areas and facilitating it by removing unnecessary regulations is a good concept. But in the area of growth management you're dealing with lots of effected interests. The legislative process itself can be a challenge and the product is not always the prettiest product you would like, but I think the basic concepts are good to try to discourage sprawl. And transportation concurrency has not worked in urban areas.

Where this bill began to attract opposition was by way of defined urban areas which is unfortunate because that became the symbol. A dense urban land area is what? A little over one unit per two acres. (Editor's note: At an average of 2.1 persons per dwelling unit, a density of 1,000 persons per square mile equates to about 1.5 units per two acres.)

Q: The opponents just call it one unit per acre even though it's really closer to two people per acre.

A: But you have to look at the other provisions. That's just one starting point. I think the concept of trying to discourage sprawl by facilitating good development in urban areas is a good concept. Implementation of this particular bill prevents some challenges and we're just going to have to work through it.

Q: So, are you generally satisfied with the dense urban land area definition?

A: I think it probably should have been tighter, but I don't want people to ignore the other layers that you have to read together. I think, for example, it pulled in a lot of small cities that aren't ready to deal with this kind of stuff. You can have a lot of little rural towns ... 5,000 people ... this is putting some big loads on them, some pretty onerous requirements. So, I think it would have been better if we had shrunk that definition some.

Q: To what extent, because a lot of it is still optional?

A: Well, what isn't optional is the list of cities that will have 5,000 or more people and a density of 1,000 people per square mile, they're in automatically. It's projected that there are about 200 cities going to fall under that and it's not optional with them. They have to do it.

Q: Will they have to have to meet concurrency or not?

A: I think, generally, there are not concurrency problems in small towns. That's not where we see the major concurrency problems. It's in major urban areas. You do run into them from time to time in rural areas, but it's not the 5,000 person small town that usually has problems with concurrency.

Q: But, they're going to have to, in terms of implementation, they're going to have to re-adopt ordinances.

A: They've got two years to adopt this new mobility plan — to find a way to fund it.

Q: I was going to ask you if you favored a higher density in the definition, but I think your answer was “let's see how it works.”

A: Yes, now that it's law, let's see how it works. If problems emerge, things that you think are going to be problems are not always problems and some things that you never thought of turn out to be problems. You can have unintended consequences that people just haven't thought about. But it takes some time to see how this works. I think to turn around in the next session and scramble, you know...

Q: The speaker yesterday suggested that there was some likelihood that the bill could be amended as early as this fall. Do you think maybe there will be the opportunity to clean it up a little bit?

A: It's hard to say. Special sessions are usually very limited and that would depend on whether the governor or legislative leaders wanted to expand the call. It's very difficult.

Q: Will DCA be getting into a rulemaking process immediately on this?

A: Yes, we already have an ongoing rulemaking process for the Legislature adopted last year. We probably will roll these issues into that same process.

Q: So, a year probably before it is done?

A: That would be a good estimate.

Q: What amendments do you foresee? If there was one amendment you would want to push through now, what would it be?

A: I would not want to be hasty about changes now. We've had lots of changes to the growth management act — too many actually and it overloads the system. I think now that this bill is passed we need to take some time to see if it works, (if) we can make it work reasonably well. If it turns out we can't, there's always plenty of time to amend it.

For more information

To find out more about Senate Bill 360, the “Community Renewal Act”:

Attend the 2009 Growth Management Implementation Workshop, June 25-26 in Orlando at the Hilton Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. The workshop begins at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 25. The registration form may be found on the Department of Community Affairs Web site, Secretary Tom Pelham and DCA staff will give a “Legislative Update” from 1:30-3 p.m. on June 25.

To listen to a replay of a virtual forum Webinar given by Secretary Pelham about Senate Bill 360 go to

Secretary Pelham's PowerPoint presentation, “Implementing SB 360,” may be found at

Law's key provisions

The primary provisions and Secretary Tom Pelham's interpretations of Senate Bill 360, the “Community Renewal Act”:
• Defines dense urban land areas as: A) Municipality with an average of 1,000 people per square mile of land area and a population of at least 5,000; or
B) A county, including its municipalities, that has an average of 1,000 people per square mile of land area; or C) A county, including its municipalities, with a population of at least 1 million;
• Means that an official designation of dense urban land areas puts transportation concurrency exception areas (TCEAs) provisions in effect;
• Eliminates state-mandated transportation concurrency requirements in designated TCEAs in dense urban land areas, but state-mandated concurrency requirements continue to apply in all other areas of the state;
• Eliminates the development of regional impact (DRI) review process in TCEAs;
• Maintains a local government's home rule power to adopt ordinances and fees;
• Keeps existing transportation concurrency provisions in TCEAs as a matter of local law, until a local government effectively amends its comprehensive plan;
• Eliminates the DCA review of plan amendments in TCEA's for compliance with state-mandated transportation concurrency requirements.

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