Gov. Charlie Crist made a bad call on growth limits
OUR OPINION: New law easing growth limits is statewide invitation to sprawl
A new growth-management law signed by Gov. Charlie Crist this week broadly redefines ''dense urban land areas'' as land with less than one home per acre. That's like calling bucolic Parkland the equivalent of packed Hialeah.
The change could allow condominiums and zero lot line townhomes in 245 Florida cities and in the entirety of eight of the state's largest counties -- including Broward and Miami-Dade. Worse, the law says that developers don't have to provide adequate infrastructure (think roads) to accommodate this growth.
The governor's reason for signing this invitation to more sprawl is the state's economic downturn. ''Hopefully,'' Mr. Crist told reporters before signing it, ``we'll be able to stimulate our economy and not do harm to our beautiful state. That's my desire.''
No one would quibble with those wishes, but this bill practically promises that harm will come to Florida's remaining open spaces. It poses such a threat that even some pro-growth commissioners on the Miami-Dade County Commission approved a resolution asking the governor to veto it. One of the bill's biggest flaws is removal of state oversight of a Development of Regional Impact. Until now the Department of Community Affairs has had authority over DRIs, which are just what they imply: developments of such large scope that they impact an entire region.
They bring more traffic, more demand for classrooms, more use of water and sewer systems. Their swelling of the local population can even affect hurricane evacuation times.
It's unwise to leave DRI choices solely up to local officials, whose vision may be clouded by builders' promises of new construction jobs and more property tax revenue.
As to Mr. Crist's economic logic, Florida's glut of vacant homes for sale refutes any assumption that builders can find financing for new construction.
Mr. Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has made a bad call at a time when his leadership was most needed.
Crist signs controversial growth-management bill
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a controversial growth management bill that some say will stimulate the state's economy but others warn will increase urban sprawl.
BY STEVE BOUSQUET
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday approved changes to Florida growth laws that supporters say will strengthen the economy and opponents predict will increase urban sprawl and traffic gridlock.
The bill rewrites Florida's 25-year-old growth management law, principally by allowing developers in the most urban counties to add more housing developments without expanding roads and by allowing counties and cities to designate new urban areas that also would be exempt from certain road-building requirements.
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican and an electrical contractor, the bill passed both houses of the Legislature by wide margins.
Business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Association of Realtors hailed Crist's decision. The Chamber said the legislation ``updates Florida's growth laws without compromising environmental or land-use protections.''
In signing the bill (SB 360), Crist, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, acknowledged the divisions it has caused. He has noted that his growth management expert, Tom Pelham, who runs the state Department of Community Affairs, had misgivings about the bill.
''I'm trying to be balanced on it and I know that it's probably one of those bills where nobody's going to be overly happy on either side of the argument,'' Crist told reporters a few hours before he acted. ``So hopefully it's right down the middle, and we'll be able to stimulate our economy and not do harm to our beautiful state. That's my desire.''
The new law is designed to make it easier to build new residential housing, even as Florida wallows in a glut of housing caused by the foreclosure crisis.
Crist signed the bill in private with no public ceremony. His press office issued a terse news release that attributed no quotations to Crist endorsing the legislation.
The statement said the bill encourages entrepreneurs to develop in designated areas; requires a study of a ''mobility fee'' to pay for road and transit improvements; and extends for two years development permits that were in danger of expiring, including permits for mining and water use.
''We're pretty disappointed with this outcome,'' said Charles Pattison of 1000 Friends of Florida, a leading environmental organization in the state.
''We think this is going to lead to [development] approvals that won't lead to any immediate job creation, and you're going to have more sprawl,'' he said.
Pattison and other environmentalists criticized the bill's definition of ''urban'' as 1,000 people per square mile.
All major environmental groups opposed the bill, and mobilized their members to flood Crist's office with phone calls and e-mails urging a veto. Also fighting the bill were eight counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Collier, Lee, Lake and Wakulla.
Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Dennis Moss said the legislation weakens local oversight of growth and increases the chance of sprawling development near the Everglades.
''It would open more of the western frontier of the county,'' Moss said.
''This removes a layer of scrutiny. The more scrutiny, the more review, and the more likely that local government will make the right decisions,'' Moss said.
Herald/Times staff writers Marc Caputo and Shannon Colavecchio contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes