Growth Plan a Concern for Florida Builders

If recent trends are any indication of things to come, local planners and officials may increasingly be accountable to state and federal priorities, but actually do more of the planning work

By Patrick L. O’Toole, Senior Editor | February 28, 2001
HUD Secretary Mel Martinez led a Florida Growth Study.


There is a saying, all politics is local. The same can be said of land use and land development. But if recent trends are any indication of things to come, local planners and officials may increasingly be accountable to state and federal priorities, but actually do more of the planning work.

In Maryland, Democratic Gov. Paris Glendenning has been a champion of "Smart Growth," establishing a series of land-use guidelines. More recently, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-Rhode Island, is proposing federal legislation to "assist" states with land-use issues. That measure, the Community Character Act of 2000, is backed by the American Planning Association but is not expected to pass in the current congressional session.

Perhaps the most interesting case is Florida, where a growth management initiative is being driven by Gov. Jeb Bush’s desire to downsize state government and its onerous task of reviewing 12,000 comprehensive master plan approvals each year. Public enthusiasm for the state to somehow solve some of the infrastructure and school funding problems that have occurred there in recent boom years is also a factor. Bush is in the planning stages of offering legislation that would solidify a small number of statewide land-use "priorities" and then turn the rest over to local authorities with strings attached.

The effort began last July with the formation of the Florida Growth Commission. Chaired by former Orange County executive and current Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, the committee was composed of 23 distinguished leaders from a wide range of disciplines. Gainesville build-er-developer Barry R. Rutenberg represented the interests of the building industry as the commission wrote and issued a report Feb 15 with 89 recommendations.

According to Rutenberg, the document has a good balance of solutions that do not favor the interests of environmentalists and no-growth advocates over those of the development community. That said, it is not likely to be drafted into legislation en masse. Rutenberg says he is inclined to believe that Bush will "cherry pick" the recommendations he favors, leaving a "balanced" outcome in doubt. "The devil is in the details," Rutenberg says of drafts of legislation now being circulated.

"The state has identified three priorities: transportation, natural resources protection and disaster preparedness," says Rutenberg. "The methodology for accomplishing this is full-cost accouting which potentially has a macro and a micro approach to new development."

This is where the current proposals could get troublesome for developers. The idea of attaching strings to local authorities via full-cost accounting would mean that all proposed development is studied not only for its current infrastructure costs, but also its costs over a 20-year span.

Builders and developers like the idea if it is established with a community-wide, macro purview that properly considers the impact not only of new residential development but also the demonstrated growth of existing homes and neighborhoods. Rutenberg cites a study in Orange County, Fla. that found that only 40% of new school students come from new development, the rest come from existing neighborhoods.

No-growth advocates like full-cost accounting, too, but only the micro purview that considers only the impact of a new proposal. The details of how a full-cost accounting measure is written by the legislature will largely determine its impact on developers.

What developers don’t want is a system where planners determine what the full cost of a new neighborhood will be and then "expect the developer to write a check," says Orlando-based developer Margaret Templeton of Lake Nona Land Co. who recently completed a term as chair of the NAHB’s land development committee. "This would defeat a lot of new development before it starts because there are only so many people who can afford to write those checks."

The second likely recommendation to be championed by the Jeb Bush administration is to give local planners with overcrowded school districts authority to temporarily cap residential development.

"My fear is that full-cost accounting will have to be phased-in, and if we are not going to have full-cost for three or four years," explains Rutenberg, "that the state will then give locals authorities the ability to simply deny rezoning for any kind of development."


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