Groups back off merger criticism in growth recommendations

Environmentalists on Monday issued growth management recommendations to state leaders but stopped short of criticizing a proposal by Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team to merge state growth management and environmental protection agencies into a new “Department of Growth Leadership.”

Scott’s transition team last month recommended creating the new agency by merging the Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation. Gov. Scott during his campaign also criticized DCA, the state’s growth management agency, for being a job killer.

On Monday, groups including Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club Florida, and the Florida Wildlife Federation issued growth management recommendations to Scott and to legislative leaders. The groups said growth management and environmental protection are essential to economic growth, sounding the major theme of Scott and top legislators.

The groups said they recognize that it may be appropriate to “unite growth management functions” at the state level with “other related and compatible government missions,” according to a news release. Several representatives of the groups said combining the three departments would pose challenges but they stopped short of criticizing the idea.

“No one knows what form that [recommendation] might take — what the details are,” said Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends of Florida. “I think we are willing to wait and see what it looks like.”

Environmental groups hold a rally in April outside the Capitol in support of reauthorizing DCA

The groups also stopped short of calling for preservation of DCA, although several of them rallied last spring outside the Capitol urging the Legislature to reauthorize the department — which it failed to do. On Monday, the groups called for having an independent state agency to oversee growth management but they did not specifically refer to DCA.

“The state planning agency over the years has been in several locations and had several different names,” said Charles Lee, director of advocacy with Audubon of Florida. “It probably would be counterproductive for us to cast this issue with the argument that DCA must be preserved at all costs in terms of its existing status and structure.”

“Probably more important to us,” said David Cullen, lobbyist for Sierra Club Florida, “is that the precepts of intelligent land use planning be preserved within the Growth Management Act regardless of what agency is tasked with executing that part of the law.”

The groups recommended reducing state oversight in designated urban infill and redevelopment areas while increasing focus on rural and “edge” areas with significant natural resources. Their report also recommends that new development cover the cost of infrastructure and services so that taxpayers are not forced to pay for them.

Pattison said the environmental groups began working on the recommendations before the transition team issued its report. And the environmentalists said they believe the new governor is interested in what they have to say because Scott’s transition team contacted several of them prior to issuing its recommendations to the governor.

“The point I think we were all trying to make is it is good for business and good for the economy to protect natural areas,” Pattison said. “I think having the conservation and planning communities making recommendations we thought were appropriate would give them some understanding there is a way to accomplish that. We didn’t want them to think it was an either-or type situation.”

To download the groups’ consensus paper on planning for quality growth, click here.

To download the group’s economic development paper, click here.

(Photos by Bruce Ritchie. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting