Editorial: Florida lawmaker’s proposal would chip away at review process for large-scale developments

Editorial: Florida lawmaker’s proposal would chip away at review process for large-scale developments

The frontal assault on Florida’s growth-management laws continues in Tallahassee.

Case in point? Senate Bill 1180, authored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. This flawed piece of legislation portends negative consequences for the review of developments of regional impact if approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Here are some “lowlights” of this proposal. It would:

• Reduce the ability of reviewing agencies to comment on proposed developments of regional impact.

• Allow local governments to direct larger developments into an alternative review process. (Translation? Reviews that are less thorough and comprehensive.)

• Define any changes to a development order that do not increase vehicular traffic during peak hours or reduce open space and conservation areas as “not substantial deviations” to the proposed project.

These provisions are disconcerting. But here’s the scariest provision in SB 1180: It would provide “an exemption from development-of-regional-impact review for any proposed development that a local government elects not to apply the review process if a comprehensive plan amendment for the development is adopted pursuant to the state-coordinated review process.”

In other words, a majority of like-minded commissioners could pre-empt (and circumvent) the review process for a DRI by approving a targeted, comprehensive plan amendment. Do Floridians really want to put this much authority in the hands of an elected commission — especially for large-scale projects that, by definition, affect residents in two or more governmental jurisdictions?

Perish the thought!

This isn’t the first time Bennett has proposed substantive changes to the state’s review process for developments of regional impact. In 2009, he authored (and the Legislature approved) SB 360. Among other things, this new law revised the definition of existing urban service areas and deleted certain requirements on developers to provide for traffic impact. (For the record, SB 360 was declared unconstitutional in 2010.)

The review of developments of regional impact should be as thorough and comprehensive as possible. Bennett’s latest proposal moves us further away from this objective.

In recent years, the Florida Legislature has been chipping away at the review process for large-scale projects. Lawmakers’ motives — to spearhead economic development and job creation — may be good, but their methods — at least in this case — are unacceptable.