State Politics

Senate bill discourages suburban sprawl


MANATEE — The Florida Senate on Thursday passed legislation designed to channel growth to cities and away from rural areas, according to a sponsor, state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

Senate Bill 360 passed easily with multiple amendments. It would lift from densely populated areas an existing rule called “transportation concurrency,” which requires sufficient roads and other transportation facilities to be in place before development can occur.

“We ended up with a bill that will encourage denser communities, discourage suburban sprawl and encourage alternative forms of transportation,” Bennett said. “It will eliminate a lot of the duplicity we have dealing with growth management.”

“Transportation concurrency” made development in dense areas too expensive, driving growth outward to less-developed areas, Bennett said.

“What we tried to do before on that issue didn’t work,” he said.

Bennett predicted that officials in the city of Bradenton and Manatee County would be happy with the change.

The bill would also:

n Streamline the permitting process for developers.

n For certain areas with a comprehensive plan, it would remove the development of regional impact (DRI) process, which addresses regional impacts of proposed large-scale developments.

“What we had was a duplicate process,” Bennett said.

The legislation was considered acceptable by Aubudon of Florida, a statewide conservation organization, according to Eric Draper, policy director.

Current growth management laws punish developers who try to do projects in urban areas, Draper said.

The bill as it was originally proposed had “a lot of things that were really bad,” but its most objectionable provisions were deleted from the current version, Draper said.

The proposal won kudos from Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc., developer of Lakewood Ranch.

“Traffic concurrency since its inception has . . . done nothing but promote sprawl rather than encourage smart and sustainable mixed-use developments,” he said. “The DRI process is outdated and duplicative of other permitting processes in the state, which adds significant expense and time to the development process.”

Manatee and Sarasota counties do not qualify under the proposal’s criteria as “dense urban land areas,” and therefore, would not benefit from the bill’s automatic exemptions to the DRI process, he said.

However, local governments could exempt areas from some rules if the project met certain criteria, Pokrywa said.

County Commissioner Ron Getman expressed cautious hope that the bill would be good for Manatee County.

“To prevent urban sprawl, you want to try to promote development in the urban area,” said Getman. “They call it ‘urban sprawl,’ but it’s really ‘rural sprawl.’ . . . Moving growth to where the infrastructure exists is a good idea and should be supported by most planners.”

The 32-8 vote in the Senate split along county lines, rather than party lines, Bennett said.

“A couple of people from Miami-Dade opposed the bill, they did not understand it,” explained Bennett. “They thought it would encourage sprawl versus discourage sprawl. We empowered local government to have more control over their land-use decisions in the State of Florida.”

Discussions with leaders in the legislature’s other chamber, the House of Representatives, are already underway, said Bennett. He predicted the issue would be taken up there as soon as next week.

Asked whether he thought Gov. Charlie Crist might sign it into law should it win approval in both chambers, Bennett replied: “He’s going to love it.”

In other action this week, CS/SB 2282, which would prohibit counties and municipalities from imposing additional taxes and fees on consumers for police and fire services, passed the Senate Committee on Community Affairs.

“Local governments should not impose a fee for emergency response services when these services are already covered under property and local taxes,” said Bennett, sponsor of the legislation. — The Associated Press contributed to this report.