Environmentalists criticize new Florida development rules

nwilliams@bradenton.comNovember 12, 2012 

MANATEE -- A Florida bill that amended growth management rules to eliminate duplicative regulations and expedite the permitting process is receiving mixed reviews.

Signed into law in May by Gov. Rick Scott and implemented July 1, House Bill 503, also known as the Environmental Regulation Bill, streamlines the permitting process, helps move projects along, including hiring subcontractors and putting more people to work, say supporters.

"In some instances, the developers have benefited from the state taking corrective action," said Alan Anderson, executive vice president of Manatee-Sarasota Home builders Association. "It really saves time, steps and energy. Some projects, the new projects since it was just passed, it will bring them to the market faster."

Among the state-wide revisions the expansions made by the bill, it reduces approval of wetland and environmental resource permits from 90 to 60 days, enlarges state methodology for general permits, provides incentives and allows developers to extend permits set to expire between Jan. 1 of 2012 and 2014 for two more years.

Some say the bill lacks oversights for environmental protection.

"The last couple of years we've seen bad bills passed," said Glenn Compton, director of ManaSota-88, a local nonprofit group dedicated to protecting Florida's environment. "This is just another example."

Compton said the bill does not prioritize environmental protection and urged citizens to realize the environment can't recover as quickly as the economy.

"Once you do degradation to environment, that's a permanent impact all citizens of Florida should be concerned with."

Before his term expired this year, former state senator Mike Bennett,

R-Bradenton, sponsored the senate version of the bill. Senate Bill 716 provides a reduction in fees and waivers for permits regarding projects that serve the public and prohibits a county or city from requiring an applicant to obtain a state or federal permit under certain conditions.

"What we wanted to do was cut out the duplication of services," said Bennett, the newly elected Manatee Supervisor of Elections. "It was costing time and money. You had government-paid engineers reviewing government-paid engineers."

Former state senator Pat Neal, owner of Neal Communities, a Manatee-based home builder, helped pass legislation in the 1980s involving planning and land development. He said the new bill will help strengthen the home-building business.

"It gets the state out of the land use business and helps with local control and local decision-making," Neal said. "Over the long term, it will enhance jobs and economic environmental stability and allow projects to go forward that have been stuck at state level for years."

Some environmental-ists, however, say scaling back on government per-mitting lessens the regulations and analysis needed to protect the environment.

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