Big Changes For Growth Management Act

In the waning hours of the 2011 Session on May 6, the Florida Legislature enacted House Bill 7207, the biggest change to the Florida Growth Management Act ("Act") since its passage in 1985. The nearly 350-page bill impacts nearly every aspect of comprehensive planning in the state. Some of the most notable changes include:

  • removing the statutory mandate for concurrency for transportation, parks and schools, but retaining state controls on how to implement concurrency for those who seek to retain it;
  • streamlining the plan amendment process for most amendments, to remove the Department of Community Affairs' ("DCA") Objections, Recommendations and Comment Report ("ORC") process and compliance review process, and to prevent DCA from intervening in citizen challenges;
  • changing the standard of review for affected party challenges to plan amendments to fairly debatable;
  • removing the option for cities and counties to seek DCA review of their plan amendments;
  • defining a more limited scope of review of plan amendments by other agencies, such as the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Department of Environmental Protection;
  • requiring all state agencies to focus on important state interests and resources, without defining what those interests and resources are;
  • removing statutory requirements for plans to be financially feasible, and to encourage energy efficiency and reduction of greenhouse gases, and altering the approach to demonstrations of need;
  • repealing Rule 9J-5, the rule that implemented the Act, and the incorporation of some of its provisions into the statute, such as urban sprawl policy;
  • repealing all statutory language regarding optional comprehensive plan elements;
  • banning all citizen initiatives and referenda on comprehensive planning;
  • banning supermajority vote requirements by local councils and commissions on comprehensive plan amendments;
  • retaining and modifying the Evaluation and Appraisal Report requirements; and
  • dismantling DCA (in Senate Bill 2156), which is currently the state land planning agency, and reduction of its budgeted positions to only 61, not all of whom are devoted to growth management.

Development and business interests have characterized the changes as long overdue and appropriate, now that every one of the state's nearly 500 local governments has adopted and administered comprehensive plans, for decades. The Florida League of Cities agreed with them, and endorsed the changes. Development and business interests were instrumental in developing the proposed changes and they, and the legislators who agree with them, forecast renewed economic vitality and jobs resulting from this historic reform.

Environmentalists and those who support strong comprehensive planning, such as 1000 Friends of Florida, see these changes as a return to the 1970's initial state planning statute, which was not mandatory and was not effective. They are concerned that Florida faces a repeat of the years of irresponsible decisions about growth, which led, they believe, to our long-standing multi-billion dollar backlog of infrastructure needs and a reduced quality of life. They also assert that the reform cannot have an immediate or near term impact on the economy since the state currently has a huge oversupply of housing, and vacancy rates for commercial properties are high.

All stakeholders agree that the changes place major responsibility squarely on local governments, to use their new-found freedom from many state mandates to make the decisions on comprehensive planning issues that are best for their communities. The magnitude of these changes requires cities and counties to engage in an in depth re-thinking of their comprehensive planning programs, and to identify new opportunities and constraints and develop a strategy to respond to them. On the private sector side of the equation, developers should closely monitor the efforts of these local governments, to assure that the developmental review process at the local level results in more expedited and less costly review of projects within the communities. Our public and private land use groups have followed this legislation closely, and stand ready to help you evaluate your options and implement any needed changes.

Categories: Land Use & Zoning (Public)Environmental/SustainabilityGovernment AffairsLocal Government
Tags: Florida Growth Management ActMitchell A. BiermanChad S. FriedmanClifford A. SchulmanSusan L. TrevarthenRichard Jay WeissDavid M. WolpinFort Lauderdale Local Government LawMiami Local Government LawSouth Florida Local Government LawFort Lauderdale Governmental Affairs AttorneysMiami Governmental Affairs AttorneysSouth Florida Governmental Affairs AttorneysFort Lauderdale Municipal AttorneysMiami Municipal AttorneysSouth Florida Municipal Attorneys
Author(s): Susan L. Trevarthen & Clifford A. Schulman