TALLAHASSEE -- Legislation that would sharply scale back state controls on urban sprawl is headed for a floor vote Thursday in the Florida House.
It will help advance Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s job-creation agenda that calls for making Florida friendlier to business, but it’s drawn opposition from environmentalists and those who advocate managing how areas grow.
Environmentalists say the House bill and a similar Senate measure are a threat to Florida’s natural resources including wildlife habitat, rivers, lakes and other waters.
The legislation, though, appears headed for passage in the GOP-controlled Legislature. The House on Wednesday turned aside Democratic proposals that would have restored some of the regulations the bill would repeal or loosen.
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“It streamlines the growth management process, removes unnecessary requirements, burdensome duplications and time delays that have hindered growth and economic development,” said Rep. Ritch Workman, a Melbourne Republican sponsoring the House bill (HB7129).
The legislation would undo most of a landmark growth management law passed 26 years ago.
“This is in effect a near complete rollback to the days in which local governments were able to do essentially whatever they wanted with regard to designating land use changes,” said Charles Lee, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.
Lee noted that in recent years a number of local officials have “ended up in state and/or federal prison because of the shenanigans that they have pulled off while dealing with local land use issues.”
Charles Pattison, president of the growth management advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida, said the legislation “goes too far, too fast” and would put efforts to control sprawl in Florida “on life support.”
Pattison also disputed the premise that growth management has held back Florida’s economic development. He said that development, instead, depends on preserving the state’s unique environment.
The Florida Home Builders Association is among the legislation’s supporters. Doug Buck, a lobbyist for the organization, said lifting controls would indirectly help revive Florida’s housing industry by lifting obstacles to new and expanded businesses.
“It’s time to let cities be cities,” Buck said. “Let them be out there alone and not rely on state oversight.”
He called Lee’s reference to corrupt local officials “disingenuous” and pointed out that politicians also have been guilty of misconduct for matters besides land development. He said the legislation does not change bribery laws.
Buck, though, acknowledged builders are nervous about giving cities and counties virtually unfettered responsibility for managing their growth. Some could opt to for more restrictions than the state has now.
“Local governments now are free for bad behavior,” Buck said. “Now, bad behavior from my perspective is different than bad behavior from an environmental perspective.”