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Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Taxpayers to Feel the Cost of Sprawl

Late yesterday afternoon, without fanfare or a public signing ceremony, the Governor quietly signed the growth managment legislation (SB 360) into law. Charles Pattison, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Florida, shares his thoughts in a Tallahassee Democrat editorial column today.

This year’s growth management bill, SB 360, was opposed by most of the leading newspapers and conservation, planning and advocacy organizations, including 1000 Friends of Florida, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties. The governor signed the bill Monday afternoon, despite many requests to veto it.

The good stated intent of this bill was to promote a jobs and economic recovery strategy with incentives for new growth and development locating into “dense urban land areas” where it is appropriate while preventing sprawl into rural and undeveloped agricultural and natural areas.

Who could argue with that? That would be anyone who understood that “1,000 people/square mile,” the qualifying standard, misses the mark by a factor of 10. A density of one dwelling unit/acre or less is hardly urban, and it certainly is not dense. Although changes were made to tighten this definition, it was not enough, as evidenced by the 245 cities and eight counties that automatically “qualify.” There is even a generous additional allowance for nonqualifying cities and counties to designate certain areas for the same incentives.

Those incentives include waivers for transportation concurrency and the elimination of the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) program within the qualifying areas. These incentives were seen by most advocates as positive so long as they were focused in the “correct” areas. But when these incentives are given across too broad an area, areas that are not really urban or dense are included.

In waiving transportation concurrency, the local government financial underpinning for dealing with transportation impacts will be undercut. Local governments will have to develop “strategies” within two years to fund and implement transportation options, but that is much less certain and clear-cut than were existing statutory options for creating concurrency-free zones. Losing the ability to deal with substantial transportation impacts caused by DRIs, and the elimination of the flawed but important proportionate-share cost requirements, rightly alarmed local governments and the public.

Add to this the elimination of a coordinated local-government process for addressing real extra-jurisdictional development impacts, and you have the makings for ending any coordinated growth management.

For the Tallahassee area, this new law would mean that projects inside our urban services area, such as Fallschase, Welaunee Plantation and SouthWood, would have paid no road-improvement costs. With impact fees, that would be different, but we don’t have them in Tallahassee. Unless the public wants to pay, all of those impacted roads will only get more congested. Similar examples exist statewide.

Job creation is important if “relaxing” some of the current growth controls helped. The problem is the current backlog of more than 300,000 vacant dwelling units, but this is not the whole story. There are hundreds of thousands of additional approved but unbuilt dwelling units and millions of square feet of commercial and institutional space. Not included are the even larger numbers that the Department of Community Affairs has to consider now in numerous plan amendments. Relaxing growth controls has nothing to do with “creating” jobs — the jobs are there, and the projects are ready to go, but the financing is missing.

The development of a mobility fee to replace the balkanized transportation concurrency process, and the community land-trust language added as part of an extensive affordable-housing amendment, are positive. However, in addition to the other problems already noted, there remain unnecessary limitations on new affordable-housing developers, mandatory recognition of existing residential densities, and the option of designating urban service areas for the “lessened” growth controls without substantive state oversight.

What was intended as a scalpel for some selective, focused growth-management improvements turned into a sledgehammer with many unintended consequences.

Think of this as a “tax” either falling onto taxpayers to cover what should be legitimate developer costs or a further decline in our quality of life, which is already strained.

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

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