Growth management bill signed

TALLAHASSEE — A growth management bill supported by business and development interests but opposed by environmentalists and local governments became law with Gov. Charlie Crist’s signature Monday.

Crist said he hopes the bill (SB 360) will boost Florida’s sagging construction industry and create new jobs by making it easier to build in urban areas and extending the life of existing development permits for two years. Other provisions are designed to promote affordable housing development.

“I know that it’s probably one of those bills where nobody’s going to be overly happy on either side,” Crist said. “So, hopefully it’s right down the middle and will be able to stimulate our economy and not do harm to our beautiful state.”

Environmentalists, the growth management advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida and the Florida Association of Counties had urged a veto. They argued the legislation will encourage sprawl and make Florida’s roadways even more crowded than they are now.

“This is going to be a disappointment to the citizens of Florida who are already frustrated by traffic congestion,” said Florida Association of Counties spokeswoman Cragin Mosteller. “This is a big setback.”

Most of the argument has been over a provision designed to correct an unintended consequence of an existing growth management law that requires ample roads and other transportation facilities to be in place before development can occur. That’s a concept known as “transportation concurrency.”

It was aimed at containing sprawl but has had the opposite result. Instead of focusing growth in urban areas, concurrency has shifted it to outlying and rural areas because roads there are less congested and cheaper to build.

The new law is intended to channel that growth back into cities by lifting transportation concurrency requirements in what are termed dense urban areas. State review of large regional developments also will no longer be required in those areas.

The problem is the measure’s 1,000 people-per-square-mile definition of an urban area is too broad and will include suburban and rural sectors, said 1000 Friends president Charles Pattison.