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The story of growth management in Florida is offered here not as a planning success story, since it has not been a great success, but rather to illustrate some of the complexities of growth management and some of its political side. Florida faces serious environmental problems. Population growth was very rapid until the 2008 financial crisis and may well resume again as the national economy improves and massive numbers of baby boomers retire. Its swampy areas are environmentally fragile and in many places its groundwater supplies are threatened with salt-water intrusion because so much of the state lies very close to sea level.11

In 1972, after considerable lobbying by environmental groups, the state legislature passed the Environmental Land and Water Management Act, as well as several ancillary pieces of legislation. In "areas of critical state concern" and on "developments of regional impact," the state can overrule local land-use decisions if they fail to take into account effects that extend beyond the locality's boundaries.12 John M. DeGrove quotes the key language of the legislation defining areas of critical state concern as:

  • 1. An area containing, or having significant impact upon, environmental, historical, natural, or archeological resources of statewide importance
  • 2. An area significantly affected by, or having significant effect upon, an existing or proposed major public facility or other area of major public investment
  • 3. A proposed area of major development potential, which may include a proposed site of a new community, designated in a state land development plan.

The "new community" provision was particularly germane to Florida because much of its population has been accommodated in major new developments, frequently carved out of environmentally sensitive former wilderness. Developments of regional impact are defined as projects that "because of [their] character, magnitude or location, would have a substantial effect on the health, safety or welfare of the citizens of more than one county." That included both residential and commercial or industrial development.

In 1985 the state enacted the Growth Management Act, which added another level of control through "concurrency requirements."13 These requirements stipulated that before new development could occur, local governments had to demonstrate to the State Department of Community Affairs (DCA) that the infrastructure was in place. For example, before new housing was built, it had to be demonstrated that water, sewer, and road capacity necessary to support it was in place. Concurrency requirements thus constituted a powerful tool both for imposing some higher-level control and also for avoiding environmental degradation and congestion. But the actual workings of the concurrency requirements were complex. One goal of state planning was to avoid excessive sprawl. Suppose a developer would like to develop on skipped-over parcels in an already developed area (sometimes referred to as "infill"). Traffic congestion in that area, however, is already such that without new road construction the area cannot meet concurrency requirements. The developer may then choose to invest in a less developed area where traffic flow is not congested and there is no concurrency problem. In that case, the concurrency requirements promote sprawl. To deal with this problem, the Environmental Lands and Management Act (1993) contains provisions for the creation of Transportation Concurrency Exemption Areas (TCEAs). These could be created if the local government committed itself to improving public transportation or engaging in various transportation demand management initiatives (see Chapter 12). The 1993 act also permitted local governments to average traffic conditions over an entire "district" rather than have a project blocked because of conditions on one segment or link.

Florida's growth management program had always faced substantial opposition. When a program in effect says to a landowner or a developer,

"You can't do that here" or "Maybe you can do that here someday, but not now," it is imposing a financial loss, and sometimes a very substantial one. In 2009 the Florida legislature passed a bill, SB 360, which significantly weakened the state's growth management abilities. A majority of Republican legislators voted for it and a majority of Democrats voted against it. Virtually every environmental group in the state, as well as the American Planning Association, opposed it and there was hope that the state's Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, who looked to many as having a good environmental record, might be persuaded to veto it. But, in the end, he went with his party.

It is said that "the devil is in the details," and in this case one big detail is that the new law defines as "a dense urban land area" any area with a population of more than 1,000 persons per square mile. Thus an area that was developed with, say, single-family houses on acre lots would easily qualify as urban, and hence could be exempted from concurrency requirements. The act also defined a number of cities and parts of eight counties as urban. Clearly, the law was seriously weakened.

In May 2011 the situation took another turn for the worse from the planners' perspective. The state legislature simply rescinded the Growth Management Act. The development community had always disliked the law and lobbied against it. Those who wanted it rescinded argued that it was impeding growth at a time when growth was too slow and the state was facing high unemployment and high fiscal stress. Those arguments in a state with a politically right orientation carried the day.

If rapid growth resumes at some time in the future and environmental problems connected with growth become more severe and the state drifts a little leftward politically, perhaps we will see some return of statewide growth management.

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