State Politics

New growth management law challenged

TALLAHASSEE — A group of local governments sued Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature on Wednesday, accusing the state of violating its constitution in passing a growth-management law that opponents bash as a developer-relief act.

Crist signed the bill into law June 1 to the delight of builders and business groups.

They said the rewrite of Florida’s 25-year-old growth laws was needed to spur the state’s development-based economy.

Titled the “Community Renewal Act,” the law largely exempts builders from having to widen roads to accommodate traffic from new construction and eliminates the review process for some large developments.

Environmentalists and local governments predict the new law will lead to sprawl and clogged roads.

“Supporters of this law are using the economy as an excuse to make it easier for developers to develop,” said Jamie Cole, the lawyer leading the suit on behalf of the city of Weston and seven other local governments.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, one of the sponsors of the bill, did not immediately return several calls seeking reaction to the lawsuit.

But during the session, he touted the bill to the Herald as one “that will encourage denser communities, discourage suburban sprawl and encourage alternative forms of transportation.”

Transportation concurrency requirements made development in dense areas too expensive, the Herald previously quoted Bennett as saying.

Crist, House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater would not comment on the lawsuit, saying through spokeswomen that they needed to read it first.

The lawsuit barely touches on the debate over sprawl and the economy. Instead, the suit focused on two provisions of the state Constitution that check the Legislature’s lawmaking powers:

n One provision says the Legislature can’t pass a single law that encompasses multiple unrelated subjects. Lawmakers broke the so-called “single subject rule’’ by adding language about security cameras at private businesses and affordable housing to the growth management bill, the suit says.

n Another provision limits so called “unfunded mandates” — that is, new laws that are imposed on local governments without any new source of money to pay for them. The Legislature can skirt this requirement by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

But the Legislature didn’t pass the law with the required two-thirds votes, the lawsuit says, nor did it provide a funding source for local governments to pay the costs of revising their growth plans.

Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he thought the plaintiffs were “over-complicating the bill.”

The intent of the bill was to give local government more control over their affairs, Galvano said.

The bill also promotes “urban infill, rather than urban sprawl,” Galvano said. “I believe it’s good legislation.”

Galvano said the bill does not violate single-subject rule and that lawmakers study legislation carefully to ensure it complies with that rule. All lawmakers have ample opportunity to object if the believe the rule has been violated, and that was not an issue, Galvano said.

Weston, in a battle with the town of Davie over a massive mixed-use development called Davie Commons, was joined in the suit by Key Biscayne, Cutler Bay, Lee County, Deerfield Beach, Miami Gardens, Fruitland Park and Parkland.

Cole has asked the Tallahassee circuit court for an expedited hearing. He said local governments throughout Florida are “struggling’’ to interpret the act, so the sooner the court weighs in, the better.

— James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, contributed.