Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reforming Florida's Growth Management Act

Florida's outdated 1985 Growth Management Act has produced a quarter century of sprawl, economic stagnation on excessively widened roads, an aesthetically deficient public realm, and a pedestrian kill-rate second to none. 

Phil Laurien, drawing from his three decades as a planner, co-authored a White Paper outlining ideas for reforming the Growth Management Act.  (Please note that he released the White Paper in his individual capacity and not as executive director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council).  His ideas have reached members of the Florida legislature and the Governor's office. 

A former planner who worked in Tallahassee for the Department of Community Affairs ("DCA"), the agency charged under the Act with reviewing Comprehensive Land Use Plans and amendments, told me she would analyze proposed plan amendments without necessarily having visited and knowing the area in question.  Phil's White Paper suggests shifting many of those reviews from Tallahassee to the existing Regional Planning Councils, where at least some board members (and staff) would know the area under consideration. 

Under Phil's proposal, each local government would establish a 20 year growth boundary (if one doesn't already exist), beyond which the State would not commit to providing costly urban services.  Leapfrog, or proposed Plan amendments to develop beyond the boundary would require analysis and approval by DCA in Tallahassee.  However, for proposals to develop within the growth boundary, a developer would need to obtain approvals only from the local Commissioners and the Regional Planning Council.  That would ensure consideration of development impacts at the regional level while streamlining the process. 

Phil criticizes the Growth Management Act's traffic concurrency requirements, which encourage sprawl by rewarding development in exurbia, where traffic capacity still exists. 

Comprehensive Land Use maps assign different colors to different land uses, in Euclidian fashion.  A commercial designation could produce an environment as beautiful as Park Avenue or as awful as S.R. 17-92.  Phil would require placemaking--the essential element blatantly missing from the Growth Management Act. 

Based on public criticism of DCA by Governor Scott and legislative leaders, I doubt the agency will emerge from the 2011 legislative session with its authority intact.  Phil's ideas merit discussion and thought in Tallahassee.

UPDATE 2/7/11--Governor Scott's proposed budget, unveiled today, would cut $668 million from DCA's $779 million budget for 2010, slicing its workforce from 358 employees to 40.