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Growth mismanagement

A St Petersburg Times Editorial
Published April 10, 2005


A little more than a month ago, Gov. Jeb Bush delivered his State of the State address listing growth management as one of his top priorities for the 2005 Legislature. Senate President Tom Lee, a homebuilder, called it the priority and suggested rewarding local governments for good planning decisions and spending more on public facilities.

The response of legislators to the resolve of Bush and Lee is underwhelming, if not insulting. Instead of figuring out how to pay for the demands on schools, roads and services from new residents, legislators are caddying to developers. Bills are moving through committees that would strip authority from local governments to set impact fees and turn the state environmental agency into a quick rubber stamp for wetlands destruction.

Welcome to growth management, Tallahassee style.

Rep. Donna Clarke of Sarasota and Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton, both Republicans, are sponsoring the legislation (HB 1173 and SB 2302) to undermine local government impact fees - one-time charges on new buildings to help offset the costs of added infrastructure demands. The bill requires a statewide formula for determining fees even though construction and land costs vary by region. It eliminates existing fees that benefit 40 counties and 19 school districts. And it gives developers a six-month grace period to grab as many building permits as possible before they have to start paying new fees adopted by local governments. The bill also provides builders exorbitant credits for future tax payments, which one county estimated would reduce its transportation impact fee collections by 31 percent, according to a House staff analysis. It also requires that builders receive a refund if the impact fee isn't spent within six years. Since builders pass on impact fees to homebuyers through the inflated price of a new house, the refund would give builders an indefensible windfall.

Greater local government accountability of impact fee spending is not unreasonable. But the rest would harm efforts to control growth while benefiting builders who seem to be doing just fine in Florida's booming housing market.

Developers also are pushing SB 1730 and HB 759, sponsored by Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Rep. Trudi Williams of Fort Myers. That proposed law would take oversight of wetlands protections from the federal government and give it to the state Department of Environmental Protection on projects destroying up to 10 acres of wetlands.

It is a blatant end run around the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which already has shown its generosity by issuing permits to destroy 61,000 acres of Florida wetlands over the past 10 years. But federal regulators have no deadline for considering permit applications. State law requires the DEP to act within 90 days and the state average is half that time, according to 2003 records.

Making it easier and faster for developers to wipe out wetlands - swamps, marshes and streams that help filter groundwater contaminants - is not growth management. It's environmental abuse.

1,302 Posts
Don't state officials get that by taking away impact fees, you get an increase in urban sprawl. From there you get an increase in the use of roads requiring new ones. And then, we get an increase in taxes to pay for new roads and start back right where we began.
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