Growth bill holds “blockbuster,” DCA chief says

A Senate bill that supporters say will encourage growth in urban areas contains an “astonishing” provision that could prevent local governments from rezoning residential property, says the chief of Florida’s state land-planning agency.

SB 360 allows local governments to waive restrictions on new development in specified “dense urban areas” with traffic congestion. Builders, environmentalists and the Florida Department of Community Affairs initially supported the measure because they said state law now encourages urban sprawl by discouraging new development in existing urban areas.

DCA Secretary Tom Pelham said SB 360 was amended on May 1, the last day of the legislative session to pass bills other than the budget, to possibly prohibit any decreases or increases in the number of homes allowed on residential property.

“It is a rather astonishing provision that has some substantial implications for planning,” Pelham said. “I don’t know who wrote that or what they are after, but it is a blockbuster.”

SB 360 was sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who also offered the conforming amendment (478902) to his bill on May 1. Bennett was traveling this week and was not available for comment, according to an aide.

Bennett was the owner of an RV park in Manatee County where inspectors in 2006 issued a stop-work order because permits were not obtained when there were modifications to RVs to make them look like log cabins, according to the Bradenton Herald.

It’s unclear whether that dispute led him to file the amendment. It requires local governments to maintain the allowed number of homes on RV parks or residential property in unincorporated areas that have “sufficient infrastructure” and are not in flood-prone “coastal high hazard areas.”

The amendment contained much of SB 1042 dealing with affordable housing, which died in a committee when the session ended. Bennett’s Senate Committee on Community Affairs was co-sponsor of SB 1042.

Nancy Linnan, a land-use planning attorney in Tallahassee who represents developers, said she doesn’t think SB 360 can be interpreted to prohibit density increases. She said it only prohibits decreases.

If the amendment was intended to limit increases in those coastal areas, Linnan said, that would presume that those increases are easily obtained now. The state, she said, often blocks increases in those high-hazard areas.

“It could have been more arftully written,” Linnan said. “When I read the whole thing and understand how the pieces fit together, I get there. But that doesn’t mean reading that language hasn’t caused a few semi-heart attacks.”

Charles Pattison of 1000 Friend of Florida said it may be appropriate for local governments to allow fewer housing units when an RV park is converted into a neighborhood or condominium with permanent homes.

“This is best left to a local government to decide,” Pattison said.

DCA hasn’t decided whether it likes the bill, Pelham said. He said it has some good things in it but also contains other measures that DCA did not request. The department had opposed the House-passed version of the bill but the Senate removed some portions DCA had problems with, Pelham said.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.