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Local delegation split on growth management bill

MANATEE — The Florida House has passed a bill that the state’s top planning official said would undermine growth management laws and promote sprawl. Senate Bill 360, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, was modified in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday so that rural areas would become vulnerable to unchecked development, according to Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham.

The proposal also would eliminate requirements for adequate roads and other transportation facilities and exempt large projects from planning reviews in many parts of the state, Pelham said.

Supporters argued that those laws need to be eased to help Florida attract new businesses because they can get projects approved faster and cheaper in competing states.

Pelham said he had worked closely with Bennett and had supported his original measure before it was amended.

The House’s changes mean developers in places like Manatee and Sarasota counties “don’t have to meet the requirement to address your traffic impact,” Pelham said in an interview with The Herald late Wednesday.

The bill as it stands now would allow development regardless of whether the area’s transportation facilities could support it, a concept in planning called “transportation concurrency.”

“Transportation concurrency would not apply to development permits,” Pelham said. “You could get your development permits without having to prove transportation concurrency.”

The 76-41 vote sent the bill back to the Senate.

The local delegation split along party lines, with state Reps. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, voting against and Reps. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, voting in favor.

Also opposing the bill as amended was Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida, an environmental group.

“As it originally came out of the Senate in the form Sen. Bennett had put it through, it was not too bad,” Lee said. “It was a carefully balanced bill before, and now, its turned into a Christmas tree of goodies for developers.”

A local developer, however, said the House had not gone far enough.

“If Florida is to compete with its neighboring states in the realm of economic development and participate in a recovery when it comes, serious change is necessary to an overly obsolete regulatory system,” said Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc., developer of Lakewood Ranch.

“SB 360 is a step in the right direction,” he added. “While not completely hitting all the fixes growth management needs, it is far better than the status quo.”

In other action, the House passed a bill 101-17 that would eventually raise the cost of tuition and fees at Florida’s public universities from its dead-last ranking last year among all states to somewhere in the middle — near the national average.

The measure is on its way to the office of Gov. Charlie Crist, who has said he supports it. All except one member of the local Manatee delegation voted in favor, including Galvano, Holder, Rouson and Reagan. The lone vote against the proposal in the local delegation was cast by New College professor Fitzgerald.

The bill passed Monday in the Senate on a 30-7 vote, with all three area state senators voting in favor, including Bennett, Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, whose district includes parts of Manatee.

The bill would give each of the state’s 11 universities authority to raise tuition up to 15 percent a year including across-the-board raises ordered by the Legislature. House-Senate budget negotiators also today agreed to an 8 percent statewide increase. Under the bill, each university then could add another 7 percent. A handful of critics said the measure was ill-timed and would hurt students of marginal means at a time when a higher education is more important than ever, according to a report from The News Service of Florida.

“This is the wrong time to do this,” said Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie.

Backers, however, said the long-term goal of improving quality of Florida institutions outweighs the immediate drawbacks. — The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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