Florida planners face legislative scrutiny on growth

State planners say it would take 268 years of population growth to use up the new home lots that already are allowed in Tallahassee and Leon County.

In DeSoto and Jackson counties, it would take even longer: DeSoto would require 328 years of growth and Jackson County would require 996 years.

Despite — or perhaps because of — what the Florida Department of Community Affairs says is an over-allocation of residential development in some counties, the department’s process for reviewing projects is facing legislative scrutiny.

DCA reviews development projects proposed by cities and counties as amendments to their comprehensive plans. As part of that review, the department wants cities and counties to conduct a “needs analysis” showing that population growth supports changing the land use designation.

But some legislators and landowners say they don’t like the needs analysis and its reliance on population estimates. They say it infringes on new development that would create jobs during tough economic times.

“It appears to me we should get rid of the needs analysis or make it tighter so there is more certainty for the developer going through it,” Sen. Mike Bennett, chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, said during a committee hearing earlier this month.

“I don’t think the needs test deters people from moving to Florida,” he said. “They still want to come down here. So I’m trying to understand — why we have a needs analysis that would take away economic development and economic incentives?”

A report published last month by the Senate Committee on Community Affairs staff says the needs assessment is a fundamental part of land use planning and a key indicator of urban sprawl. But the committee staff also said it is only one factor to consider along with economic development, urban infill and locating development where it is most efficient to receive local services.

DCA Secretary Tom Pelham suggests that the department is getting a bad rap from its critics. He says projects usually are denied for multiple reasons — including lack of infrastructure — which he said are caused by overallocation of development.

“I challenge anyone to find department decisions where need was the only issue raised,” Pelham told the committee hearing. “It simply is not the case.”

Bennett today told FloridaEnvironments.com that he’s not sure whether his committee’s review of the needs analysis will result in legislation. He also said that the proposed Destiny development project in Osceola County could create more than 10,000 jobs, yet it must go through the uncertainty of the needs analysis.

“You have a group of investors willing to put millions and millions and millions of their own money into the project,” Bennett said, adding, “A needs analysis does not work in that situation.”

In response, Pelham said today the Destiny developers still could build 8,500 homes on more than 40,000 acres — and they haven’t submitted an application to build more. So the department, he said, hasn’t denied any project there.

And claims of jobs that could be created at Destiny are simply “wild rumor and speculation,” Pelham said, adding, “No hard evidence of any kind has been presented to back that up.”

In its report, the Senate Committee on Community Affairs suggested that DCA or the Legislature begin rulemaking to clarify the criteria used in the needs analysis. DCA earlier this month held a hearing to solicit comment on a possible rule but no timetable has been established for adopting one.

Earlier this month, Pelham told Bennett’s committee that it shouldn’t be hard for a developer to provide data showing that a good project is needed.

The needs analysis, Pelham said, lies at the heart of the planning process. And he noted that Florida has a history of “speculative” development projects that wind up failing — and government then is called in to bail them out.

“I worked for the private sector for a long time and was honored to represent some of the top developers in this state,” Pelham said. “But they are doing their job, which is to take care of their bottom line.

“That’s their job — I don’t criticize that at all,” he said. “That’s why someone has to take the big picture and look out for the public interest. Because it may be the public that winds up holding the bill.”

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

5 thoughts on “Florida planners face legislative scrutiny on growth”

  1. Excellent information for the public. Perhaps you could add the amount of water consumed in that locale and what the limit is on their consumptive use permit. When you see how many already approved residences there are, you can see what a water shortage looms.

  2. Additional notes:
    That table at the top of the story with the projected residential capacity for nine counties is from the Florida Department of Community Affairs presentation by Tom Pelham. I called the planning departments in DeSoto, Jackson and Leon County for responses.

    Jason Green, planning manager for DeSoto County, said he couldn't comment on the numbers because he had not seen them. But he said the county usually predicts a steeper population increase than the state because of an expected shift to inland counties. And he said such estimates usually exclude other factors that limit residential capacity.

    "They (usually) are doing maxium units per acre regardless of environmental features," he said. "It's a 30,000-foot look. It doesn't account for loss of land due to infrastructure or wetlands."

    There was no call back from Jackson County or the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department.

  3. The regular citizens will only start to pay attention when you give them local data. You article was a great eye opener for the Tally area. Volusia County could use some attention from you. An example to start from could be Daytona Beach. Daytona currently has less than 40,000 residential units build but has allowances for over 300,000 already in its comp plan. Furthermore they are already more than 80% through their CUP. How the heck do they plan to water almost 900% more people with less than 20% of their water left? The chamber BS about FHD being an economy killer is such a joke when it is the 4 times minimum that everyone's water bill will increase with desal that will be the real economy killer. Your site is an asset to every thinking resident in Florida. Thank you for your efforts to educate us.

  4. Also waiting to see some actual water resources planning done by the counties that I believe is mandated by DCA. We already know that the WMDs have over-allocated the resource in many areas.

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