Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Orlando Paper Slams Their Local Rep (and next Speaker of the House)

It’s not often that you see a local paper take on a member of their own area’s delegation. But the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel does just that with this editorial about Winter Park legislator, and next Speaker of the House, Dean Cannon’s proposal to move the Department of Community Affairs under the Department of State.

It’s the greatest work of fiction to come out of the Legislature this session. It goes like this: Florida needs the bills that would abolish or dismantle the agency regulating growth, the bills’ proponents say, because they’d save the state tons of money, remove a lot of bureaucratic clutter while preserving regulatory principles and help rejuvenate the state’s moribund economy.

We’d sooner believe what we read in Tolkien or Grimms’ fairy tales.

Florida does have 300,000 vacant homes, a glut spurred by the global credit crunch that also has slowed construction of new homes. But blaming the Department of Community Affairs for that state of affairs is sheer nonsense.

Particularly so because even in this economy, even with DCA, developers and governments keep pitching grandiose and oftentimes grotesque plans that they say are necessary for Florida’s future.

Behemoths like Destiny, a new city of 100,000 people at Yeehaw Junction in a desolate stretch of Osceola County.

And embarrassments like Innovation Way East, which would deposit another 10,000 homes on almost 4,600 acres four miles east of Orlando. That’s on top of 20,000 homes Orange County commissioners already approved in the area.

In fact, DCA’s as active as ever. It reviews 8,000 to 10,000 amendments to local growth plans a year. Since 2008, amendments have involved 410,000 acres and 630,000 residential units.

Far from being a cumbersome, redundant bureaucracy, DCA often is the only backstop to local governments running roughshod over those growth plans and other laws intended to guard the state’s imperiled wildlife, watersheds and environmental jewels.

Just last year, it pushed back outrageous plans from a developer to build an oversized marina in an aquatic preserve on the St. Johns River in Volusia County, home to manatees. DeBary officials appeared ready to swallow it whole.

DCA stood ready to rein in Orange County’s plans for Innovation Way East, which the county wanted to grease by bypassing local land-use, employment and environmental rules.

And DCA recently helped shape rules preserving eagle habitat and wildlife corridors for large developments near Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. It also continues to steer development from the Green Swamp, more than 500,000 environmentally sensitive acres in Lake and Polk counties.

Heathrow Rep. Chris Dorworth says the bill he voted for in a House committee, which would transfer DCA’s responsibilities for reviewing local growth plans to the Department of State, wouldn’t strip away growth management principles. Please.

It would have a department that oversees elections — no great track record there — watch over the state’s growth. We fear — and expect — it wouldn’t do much more than that: Watch.

Lawmakers also are seeking to hack funding for growth management so that staff reviewing amendments to local plans — whether as part of DCA or the Department of State — would drop by half. That might save the state a couple of million dollars — hardly patching the hole in the state’s $6 billion budget deficit.

It would, however, let loose developers to do most anything they want to millions of acres Floridians say they don’t want transformed.

The bills “provide a healthy re-examination” of DCA’s role, says Winter Park’s Dean Cannon, the House’s next speaker and the de facto force behind a makeover or rollover of DCA.

But there’s nothing healthy, Mr. Cannon, about doing away with DCA.


Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , ,

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