State Politics

Port areas net development exemptions

MANATEE — A measure that would exempt up to three miles around Port Manatee and 13 other deepwater ports across the state from Development of Regional Impact regulations has passed the Florida Legislature.

The measure, which passed as part of a transportation bill in the House of Representatives, will help businesses in the three-mile zone around the port avoid a two-year regulatory process that could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars each, said David Ramba, a partner at Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A., and a lobbyist for Port Manatee.

“It exempts port-related activities from the DRI process,” Ramba said Monday, referring to the planning process used for large-scale developments called the Development of Regional Impact.

He said the legislation, which now goes to the governor’s office as its last stop, would affect all those within a three-mile circle around the boundaries of the port.

“It has to be port-related or port-dependent type facilities,” Ramba explained. “The county has to approve it, but since the county commission and the port commission are the same, that should be no problem.”

Finally, the secretary of the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees planning and growth management, must “sign off” on it, said Ramba.

Asked whether the department had supported the idea, Ramba replied, “I wouldn’t say ‘support.’ They were OK with it.”

Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham had not yet seen a finished version of the legislation late Monday and declined comment, said a spokesman for the department.

“All ports in the State of Florida are exempt from DRI regulations and rules,” said Steve Tyndal, senior director of trade development and special projects for the Port of Manatee. “This bill extends the privileges of all ports in the state, allowing them to extend that exemption to within three miles of their port boundaries.”

The state has 14 deepwater sea ports, including Port Manatee, he said.

Port officials have sought such a measure for a long time because it will encourage potential development around the port, said Tyndal.

The area comprises approximately 3,700 acres of privately-held land. Most landowners would be able to develop projects that have a beneficial relationship with the port, he added.

“Of course, this would mean new jobs for Manatee County, a new tax base and the opportunity to grow the port to its potential as we consider the opportunities that will arise with the expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in 2014,” said Tyndal.

He credited state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, for its passage, saying, “He really carried the day for us on this one.”

Since ports are exempt from DRI requirements, properties around it should be exempt as well, said Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash.

“What this is all about is economic development, creating diversity in our workforce, ensuring proper land uses take place around a port,” he said. “If we don’t try to guide the right kind of development around Port Manatee, we’re stuck with homes. The proper use is port-related industrial use, rather than residential.”

He noted that he had heard complaints from business owners seeking to relocate to Port Manatee, who had been dismayed to learn of the complex set of regulations that they would have to meet in order to build here.

“They’re going to other states that don’t have these regulations,” said McClash.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908.