Latest News

Crist urged to veto growth management bill

MANATEE — Environmentalists across the state are urging Gov. Charlie Crist to veto a newly passed growth management bill that was sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

The bill would promote urban sprawl, cause traffic congestion and contribute to climate change, said Charles Pattison, president of the environmental group, 1000 Friends of Florida, in a letter to Crist.

The bill, CS/CS/SB 360, would exempt many outlying as well as urban areas from a requirement to have adequate roads and other transportation necessities in place before development can occur.

An official representing The Sierra Club complained that the bill would cripple the role of the state’s growth management agency, the Department of Community Affairs, as well as regional planning councils, which help to regulate growth.

“I think the most dangerous thing here is this bill could very well destroy the regional planning concept of growth management in Florida,” said The Sierra Club’s Frank Jackalone. “It would allow development in Sarasota County, for example, to threaten the environment of Manatee County without Manatee County having a say-so in the regional planning.”

The measure “was botched up in the House of Representatives” and sports “a giant loophole” that is contrary to smart-growth principles, according to Charles Lee, director of advocacy for the nonprofit environmental organization, Audubon of Florida.

Bennett, who worked closely on the bill’s text with state growth management officials, originally had the support of many environmentalists. But once the measure got a workover on its trip through the House, it earned the enmity of some of its original backers.

It passed during the recently-adjourned session, on a vote of 78-37 in the House and 30-7 in the Senate. The local legislative delegation split along party lines, with Bennett and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, voting for it, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voting against.

Bennett was in Europe Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Also voting in favor were state Reps. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, while Reps. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, voted against.

The legislation is supported by builders and developers who say it will help their recession-wracked industry recover and create jobs.

Those who voted for the measure defended it as a necessary streamlining of the review process and a way to prevent the state from losing badly needed construction projects.

“It’s a good bill, I supported it, a lot of negotiation went into the bill,” said state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who voted for the bill.

“I’m not specifically sure what their problem is with the bill, but I looked at it from an environmental standpoint. I thought it was environmental protection, and at the same time, provided language to help move projects that are perhaps languishing because of the economy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.