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Governor Crist Signs Growth Management Bill

Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday signed a bill that has become an ink blot test of the state’s ability to effectively manage growth.

The bill (SB 360) is intended to update the growth management laws and to limit sprawl by steering growth toward the cities. Supporters say the current law is choking growth where it’s needed while letting it flourish where it’s not.

But critics, a coalition of environmental and local government groups, say the measure, which reduces local oversight over development decisions, will further congest Florida’s cities without alleviating the sprawl happening on the urban fringe.

Crist signed the bill Monday despite earlier criticism from Tom Pelham, the governor’s appointed secretary of the Department of Community Affairs. Pelham earlier called on lawmakers to scuttle the bill that he may soon become charged with enforcing.

Business generally likes the bill – and had called it a job creator.

“Not only will this bill help jump-start our economy, it actually provides for greater protections for our state's most sensitive areas and will help to limit sprawl," said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce after the bill was signed. "This is the type of legislation our state needs if we are going to prepare for the 7 million additional residents expected in this state by 2030."

Crist tipped his hand a bit outside a Home Depot in Tallahassee on Monday, where he was doing an event to remind Floridians about hurricane season, but acknowledged it had been one of the most controversial bills he had to decide on.

“I'm trying to be balanced on it and I know it's probably one of those bills where no one is going to be overly happy on either side of the argument,” he said.

The bill was pushed by those who said the 25-year-old growth management law encouraged the type of sprawl it attempted to avoid. The bill is aimed at pushing growth back into urban areas while freeing up construction projects that are waiting in the wings.

Specifically, the plan would remove transportation concurrency requirements in the state’s dense urban land areas -- tracts with an average of at least 1,000 people per square mile or in counties with populations of at least 1 million. The provision would directly affect eight of the state’s largest counties and nearly 250 municipalities across the state.

The idea is to encourage growth in the cities – which, in turn, should reduce the impulse to put new development on the outer edges of town – the suburban or exurban areas. In doing so, that should reduce sprawl. And in relaxing those transportation requirements, it may encourage some projects to get going, creating jobs.

The bill would also exempt from the development of regional impact process those dense urban areas or parcels classified as urban infill, community redevelopment or those that are part of an urban service area.

But some worry about the way the bill is worded and that some of its provisions will encourage new development in some areas that aren’t in the urban core.

The measure would allow for a two-year extension of projects that are otherwise compliant with local and state permits. The bill prompted controversy in both chambers. It passed the Senate on a 30-7 vote. The House passed it by a 78-37 tally.

Ron Weaver, a land-use attorney based in Tampa, said the changes would jump help jumpstart the state's stagnant economy by precluding the need for developers to add the streets and other infrastructure needs that would otherwise have been required.

“It's going to allow many of these projects to move forward,” Weavers said recently.

But Rodney Long, president of the Florida Association of Counties, said the group called on Crist to veto the measure, because it feared the bill would strip local governments of the one tool that allows them to regulate growth and maintain quality standards. That is the idea of “concurrency” - requiring roads and other infrastructure to be developed in concurrence with new housing or other development.

“With limited funds for transportation improvements, concurrency has been the one tool a community can use to ensure that growth and transportation are in sync,” Long said. “By taking this away in such larger areas, the people of our state will inevitably suffer.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

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