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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 21, 2005 15 years ago

Time for Change?

Floridais Growth Management Act might be rewritten for the first time in two decades.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Time for Change?

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

Sen. Mike Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton, made a tough choice nearly four years ago. As a state representative, he opposed Gov. Jeb Bushis bid to rewrite the stateis growth management laws. Construction and development interests joined with Bennett and other legislators to defeat the bill.

iThe governor and I had some serious disagreements over it because there was nothing in there to fund (infrastructure costs),i says Bennett, a real estate developer.

The choice carried consequences. Bush, a former Miami developer, championed growth management reform as a priority long before taking office. Bennettis opposition upset the governor.

iHe had gotten so mad he even sent back my campaign contribution check,i Bennett recalls.

Time apparently has healed the fissure between the two. It may be that Bush doesnit have much recourse if he wants the reform effort to succeed before his second term expires in two years.

This year, Bennett serves as chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, which oversees growth management legislation. He and the governor appear committed to what could become the first major rewrite of the stateis Growth Management Act since it was enacted 20 years ago.

iWeire on the same wave length,i Bennett says. iWeire committed to working together. Weire committed to working with the House, and weire going to bring something to the people that makes sense.i

Confluence of interests

Many in legislative leadership this year have an intimate understanding of how the Growth Management Act affects the state. Builders and related businesses have long complained that the regulatory process is cumbersome, time-consuming and costly. Projects are often delayed years while regulatory approval is sought.

Among those whoive faced the bureaucratic hurdles are Senate President Tom Lee, R-Tampa, vice president of Sabal Homes of Florida Inc., a family-owned home building company.

iI have also expressed frustration about a growth management system that lacks sustainability because it ignores the current disconnects between land use decisions and the essential infrastructure that is fundamental to our quality of life,i Lee told Senate members in November. iLetis face it; growth management is far more a financing problem than a planning problem.i

Lee did not return telephone calls to GCBR.

Then thereis House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, who owns a concrete contracting company. Rep. Mike Davis, R-Naples, for years owned a sign-making company in Naples and was an active member of the Collier Building Industry Association. As vice chair of the House Growth Management Committee, Davis is expected to sponsor a Bush-backed growth management bill.

Bennett owned and operated Aladdin Ward Electric Air Inc. for years until he sold his interest in the Sarasota electrical contracting company. He plans to sponsor a companion bill in the Senate.

iIim cautiously optimistic,i Bennett says about the reformis chances this year. iIim optimistic in that youive got a Senate thatis desperately trying to get along with the House. Everybody is trying to work together. If the leadership of the House and Senate want to make this happen, it will happen.i

This confluence of like interests can only benefit the reform movement, says Steve Seibert, a former Pinellas County commissioner who served as Bushis first secretary of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). In that position, he actively spearheaded the growth management reform movement.

iYes, the conversation has been happening for several years so it may be time to see a change,i says Seibert, who now practices land use and environmental law in Tallahassee. iThere are a lot of people who donit think the current law is performing as well as we hoped it would.

iThe governor has made it a priority,i he adds. iItis always been a priority. Heis accomplished change in pieces but now is interested in tackling this really hard issue.i

New revenue sources

Months of speculation about a reform bill materialized in written form over the past several weeks as staff at DCA circulated a 172-page draft of a bill that proposes a massive overhaul of the Growth Management Act. This is the bill that Bennett and Davis would sponsor.

The draft incorporates much of what the DCA published in white papers, titled iGrowth Management Initiatives,i on its Web site (

Many of the changes DCA Secretary Thaddeus Cohen and staff have proposed in the 172-page document also incorporates what Seibert and his staff proposed several years ago. Those changes include recommendations proposed by the governoris Growth Management Study Commission, a panel once led by former Orange County commissioner and now U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Orlando.

iThere is very little new under the sun,i Seibert acknowledges. iMany of these concepts have been discussed by my predecessors as well.i

The draft bill targets one of Bennettis primary concerns. It would mandate fiscal accountability for infrastructure development costs and require local government to pledge revenue sources to build infrastructure. Those sources could include property taxes and impact fees.

iWe must give the counties more flexibility,i he says. iTheyive got some tools, but weive not given them flexibility in the past. Give them flexibility with local option fuel taxes for more roads. Give them flexibility over the millage. Allow citizens to vote in their taxing methods.

iIf local government wanted to increase document stamps on real estate transfers, why not use that to build infrastructure,i he adds. iI would be in favor of them doing that if they cap impact fees. That way you could generate a new revenue stream. You cannot bond impact fees. But with doc stamps you could bond it, and they could go out and build the roads they need.i

Fiscal accountability appeals to many home builders, says Douglas Buck, the Tallahassee-based governmental affairs director for the Florida Home Builders Association.

iItis important to figure out which of those fees are broad enough so theyire at a low enough level that they donit distort the real estate market,i he says. iIt should be value-based so it does not fall disproportionally.i

In his view, Buck thinks gasoline taxes fit the definition.

iItis probably the best source for connecting that jump between how much you use the road and how much you have to pay,i he says. iIf you drive more you pay more. Whatever fund you come up with Iill pay it. If itis gas tax, the new (resident) will also pay it. If it a real estate transaction fee, the new (resident) also will pay it.i

iNo one wants to pay any more taxes than they have to, but weive so restricted local government on a couple of those issues that weire strangling them,i Buck adds.

Searching for visions

The draft DCA bill proposes a decentralization of the agencyis growth management responsibilities. To do that, the draft recommends the agency focus solely on a priority list of issues of statewide concern.

It recommends that DCA retain authority to encourage orderly statewide land use patterns as a means to discourage urban sprawl. The state agency would be responsible for oversight of a statewide intermodal strategic plan that supports the unimpeded flow of commerce from air- and seaports to the interstate highway system.

The draft also charges the state agency with oversight on growth management issues that affect natural resources, particularly water. The agency also would retain oversight on issues involving natural disasters and disaster mitigation.

One proposed mandate would require Florida counties and cities to develop a growth-management visioning plan. For instance, Bennettis committee recently heard a presentation on visioning given by Daniel DeLisi, director of planning for Bonita Bay Group Inc.

Over the years, DeLisi says, the Bonita Springs-based residential developer has forged alliances through open meetings with property owners, civic associations and local governments to build its planned communities. In doing so, Bonita Bay Group has encouraged these stakeholders to focus on long-term impacts.

iThe way the stateis growth management is set up everything is based on accommodating population,i he says. iIf the population projections in your county show that people will move there then you have to plan for it. If the population shows that people wonit move there then youire not allowed to plan for it.

iItis a bizarre system,i DeLisi adds. iIn essence weive delegated our planning to a department at the University of Florida (the Bureau of Economic and Business Research), which doesnit have any planning background.i

Thatis why Bonita Bay Group supports local visioning as the way to accommodate growth and the community concern over quality of life issues, DeLisi says. For example, he cites the consensus the developer forged in Lee County during the developeris work in the Estero community.

iWe mandate through the countyis comprehensive plan that developers must meet with citizens when they rezone,i he says. iWhen they go for a development order, or submit engineering plans, they must present it to a citizens advisory committee.i

DeLisi acknowledges the development community didnit readily buy into that mandate.

iWhen that was first adopted, there was a lot of angst,i he says. iWhat people will realize, however, itis much better to work with a community that has been so involved in the process that they know the issues and they feel ownership over implementing a specific vision. So when the developer comes in they have certainty. They know if they implement the vision, theyill get the support of the community.i

Troublesome issues

One issue likely to cause some concern among environmentalists and some growth management proponents is a proposal to relax concurrency requirements in the Growth Management Act. When adopted in 1985, proponents touted concurrency as the actis teeth o the enforcement provision. It means growth must have the infrastructure to support it.

The draft bill would eliminate concurrency mandates in most instances, except for schools and transportation infrastructure. The state no longer, for instance, would mandate concurrent development of water-and-sewer infrastructure, for instance, or parks. Such infrastructure development would become the sole responsibility of local governments.

Such delegation of responsibilities bothers some growth management advocates.

Palm Beach attorney Lesley Blackner, a founder of the Hometown Democracy constitutional initiative, says such delegation invites corruption among elected officials beholden to the construction and development industries. The Hometown Democracy initiative, if eventually qualified for a popular vote, would require residents to vote on every comprehensive plan amendment, an idea that chills most property owners and developers.

iThe only way to change the system is to change who makes the final decision,i she says. iThat should be the electorate, because theyire the ones getting stuck with the consequences.i

Blackner is not the only one with concerns about the draft bill. Homebuilders and developers in the Tampa Bay area and Sarasota-Manatee markets reject the billis proposal to delegate certain growth management oversight responsibility to the stateis 11 regional planning councils from the DCA.

iThere may be a need, perhaps, for more local coordination on issues that affect more than one local governmental jurisdiction,i says Joseph Narkiewicz, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association. iBut to resurrect regional planning and give it authority over local plans and other authorities may not be the way to do it. Iim leery of the language in the (draft) bill.i

Instead, Narkiewicz suggests the Legislature strike the DCA recommendations for regional planning council oversight and instead focus on infrastructure funding issues.

iItis a matter of taking a sane approach to growth management and properly funding growth management,i he says. iThe Growth Management Act as itis written seems to be workable. The Legislature just failed to provide the funding to implement it.i

Although he has not yet read the draft bill, Rex Jensen, president of Bradentonis Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc, has concerns about what he has heard. The proposals present serious issues for Jensenis company, which owns nearly 28,000 acres in mostly eastern Manatee and Sarasota counties. He dislikes any plan to revitalize the regional planning councils.

iItis a total mistake,i he says. iIt should be local decisions. If theyire going to delegate why donit they delegate locally? This smells like to me theyire setting that situation up again. I donit see any reason why they should do that.i

Jensen has a simple suggestion: Get the state out of the business of managing growth.

iWhat the state ought to be doing is planning for growth instead of managing it,i he says. iWhen you try to manage growth youire managing something that pretty much already has happened.

iWhat the state has failed to do is look ahead to the amount of growth coming and then planning, funding and building the bloody infrastructure necessary to support it,i he adds. iTheyive always looked out the rear view mirror instead of the windshield and constructed new processes instead of dealing with the problems right in front of their faces.i

However, Jensen likes any idea that forces state, regional and local governments to create a vision for growth.

iThere are a lot of self-interest groups tugging and pulling at the process in different directions,i he says. iIn all fairness to the governor, it must be like herding cats.i

To solve the problem, Jensen recommends simplification.

iI think what the governor should do is identify the fundamental land use issues we would like to cure and articulate a vision,i he says. iHe should focus on the top two or three things we should accomplish. I havenit seen that coming from him. I havenit seen a clear and articulate proposal written. At least it hasnit been communicated down to the guy in the streets like me.i

Thatis the kind of debate that has Bennett wondering whether the Legislature can complete an overhaul of the Growth Management Act in the upcoming legislative session.

iFor starting purposes, I will file the identical bill (to the one Davis is expected to file),i Bennett says. iThatis when the modifications start. Weill start that as a basis and travel around the state getting recommendations from a lot of different people.

iIf we get it out this year that is great,i he adds. iBut I would rather delay it a year and get a good bill instead of rushing through something just to get a growth management bill.i

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