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Developers favored as congestion worsens

Published on: October 21, 2015

By PENNY FLETCHER

fl-boca-traffic-problem-20130323-001On April 30, 2009, Florida Sen. Michael S. Bennett, a longtime developer, introduced Bill 360, which relaxed regulations on developers — such as having to build schools; fix roads to accommodate their new housing or retail buildings.  The bill deleted language that exempted rural areas of critical economic concern from a “needs” test for new services, and allowed local governments to decrease impact fees on new development.

As quoted from Florida Senate record, “Senate Bill 360 is among the most contentious pieces of legislation of the year, pitting businesses against development groups, against cities, counties and environmentalists.”

Faced with heavy lobbying on both sides, then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill into law, and it became known as the Community Renewal Act.

Counties and cities gathered together in a lawsuit in 2010, and Tallahassee Circuit Judge Charles Francis declared the law unconstitutional, saying it was an “unfunded mandate” and would force counties to spend at least $34.7 million to rewrite their land-use plans.

In his decision, the record quotes that “this law rewrites Florida’s 1986 Growth Management guideline Plan” and allows developers to build more houses without expanding roads and building schools.

The counties and cities told Judge Francis the new law forced local governments to pay more for

transportation and education needs than they could afford.

By then, Bennett, who was in the Florida House from 2000 to 2002 and then a Florida Senator from 2002 to 2012, had introduced a similar bill, described in the Florida Senate record as “tighter than Bill 360 had been.” This bill was House Bill 7207.

Paragraph seven of this bill stated that “this bill removes state required concurrency for transportation, parks and recreation, and schools, but allows local governments to continue applying concurrency in these areas without taking any action.”

In other words, developers would not have to improve roads, build schools, parks or many other things they used to have to do before building new housing or retail developments.

House Bill 7207 was passed May 6, 2011, and signed by Gov. Rick Scott. It is called the Community Planning Act and referred to as “the concurrency law” by state and local officials.

The fallout from the Community Planning Act is evident in Hillsborough County. This act has left counties scrambling, said Michael Williams, director of county transportation and planning. “The county’s plans are ready to go,” he explained at several community meetings around the county over the summer, and added that “Hillsborough County is the 11th worst county for congestion in the U.S.”

According to county planners, 330,000 new residents are projected to move into Hillsborough by 2020.

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