Judge strikes down controversial 2009 growth management changes

A Leon County circuit judge on Thursday struck down a controversial measure that dropped a requirement in state law that developers pay for new roads and schools in many areas.

SB 360 was one of the most controversial bills of the 2009 legislative session. The measure lifted transportation “concurrency” requirements for new roads in designated “dense urban land areas.” State oversight of “developments of regional impact” also was removed in those areas.

Supporters, including, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Home Builders Association, said the bill would help the depressed housing industry and encourage development where it’s needed. But Chief Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis said in his final summary judgment that the bill represented an “unfunded mandate” on cities and counties as prohibited by the Florida Constitution.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and sponsor of SB 360, said Thursday he expects the Legislature to fix state law in response to the judge’s ruling either in a special session or in the 2011 regular session.

“There’s no panic because there’s no growth to manage [right now],” said Bennett, who is also chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs.

More than half of Florida’s 411 cities and eight of its most populated counties qualified under the law as “transportation concurrency exception areas,” according to the Florida Department of Community Affairs. (Click here to view the list.)

Environmental groups, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties asked Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the bill in 2009. They said the bill would encourage urban sprawl by lifting requirement for roads and removing state oversight of developments of regional impact (DRIs) in vast rural areas.

When he signed the bill, Crist said he was trying to encourage job-growth during in response to the economic downturn.

In July 2009, the cities of Weston, Miami Gardens, Fruitland Park, Parkland, Key Biscayne and Cutler Beach along with Lee County sued Crist and legislative leaders. They said the bill violated the constitution by dealing with more than a single subject and by creating an unfunded mandate for cities and counties.

Bennett said DCA Secretary Tom Pelham created difficulties for the bill by “changing his story all the time” but he did not elaborate. Pelham said in 2009 the bill does not apply to growth rules adopted as part of city and county comprehensive plans.

A DCA spokesman said the department was analyzing the ruling and would have no further comment.

Representatives of the Florida Home Builders Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce said they were disappointed by the ruling.

Rebecca O’Hara, legislative director for the Florida League of Cities, said it was unfortunate so much time and money was spent on adopting the bill and then challenging it in court. She said the state offered little defense against the argument that the bill represented an unfunded mandate.

“I think there are going to be a lot of cities and counties and other entities that have to sit down and figure out what that means to them,” she said.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)