an imperfect but noble effort to protect Florida from selfishness
and greed, died Thursday (June 2, 2011). The cause of death was
legislation passed by a Legislature lacking perspective and signed
into law by Rick Scott, a new governor ignorant of the state's history
and indifferent about its future. . Growth Management was 26 years
old. The agency that oversaw it, the now-vanquished Department of
Community Affairs, is survived by a handful of relatives not up
to carrying on the mission: water management districts decimated
by spending cuts; regional planning councils and similar agencies
with little authority; and county commissions with neither the will
nor the vision to stand up to developers.
Born in 1985,
Growth Management was supported in its youth by governors and legislators
from both political parties who looked beyond the next election
and were determined to keep Florida from strangling itself. The
state had been growing wildly for decades, with local governments
unwilling to say no to sprawling subdivisions, strip shopping centers
and other commercial developments of all shapes and sizes. Huge
chunks of undeveloped land disappeared almost overnight, traffic
jams became routine, and overcrowded schools became suburban fixtures.
Floridians feared their slice of paradise was being lost.
was an ambitious attempt to bring some sanity to the mad rush to
pave over Florida. It required cities and counties to plan for growth,
determine where and how much development would be permitted, and
forecast how roads, utilities and other services would be paid for
to accommodate it all. Most important, the 1985 law gave the state
the authority to approve or reject those plans.
And under a
concept called concurrency, developers eventually were forced to
help pay for new roads, schools and parks to accommodate the growth
their projects generated. In the late '80s and early '90s, Growth
Management was a given. The question was how to pay for it. Florida
never resolved that question, and now the state has given up on
the very idea of managing growth.
A proud legacy
Before its demise,
Growth Management claimed many successes. Taxpayers did not get
stuck with the entire bill for public expenses created by private
development. Communities planned better. Many developments moved
forward after being redesigned, such as the Westshore area in Tampa.
The state appropriately overruled counties that embraced such shortsighted
schemes as allowing development closer to the Everglades in Miami-Dade
County, dredging a state aquatic preserve to accommodate a marina
and hotel in Taylor County, and building hundreds of condos on a
mobile home park site on a barrier island in Palm Beach County.
Yet the empty
shopping centers, backlog of housing and clogged roads are clear
evidence that Growth Management did not choke off development. In
fact, over the last four years the Department of Community Affairs
approved changes to county plans to allow for more than 1 million
new residential units and 2.7 billion square feet of commercial
With the economic
recession and the collapse of the housing market, much of that capacity
has yet to be built. Growth Management had powerful enemies: developers
who did not want to pay their fair share; legislators who railed
against government regulation; local officials who were too cozy
with builders and land-use lawyers.
who served as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs under
two Republican governors and deserves a medal for his commitment
to saving Florida, was all but hung in effigy. In the final years,
Pelham was the first to acknowledge regulations could be overhauled
to more fairly assess road costs and better steer development to
fix Growth Management, opponents seized on the economic recession
as an opportunity to kill it.
had been on life support for months as legislators, developers and
business groups shamefully repackaged a visionary effort to save
Florida into a demon to be slain. Gov. Charlie Crist signaled the
beginning of the end in 2009 when he signed the precursor to this
year's death sentence.
Growth Management as he campaigned for governor last year, and he
joined state lawmakers this year in claiming less regulation will
create more jobs. They said virtually nothing about creating a quality
of life - clean water, clear roads, good schools, nice parks - needed
to attract and keep businesses and workers.
plea for a reprieve by former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham, who signed
the 1985 legislation into law, and Republican environmentalist Nat
Reed failed to sway Scott.
Now the state
has given up virtually all of its oversight of development and its
authority to require developers to help pay for roads, schools and
parks. Local governments can pretty much do as they please. Florida
has turned the clock back three decades. Growth Management died
quietly. There were no bill-signing ceremonies or front-page headlines
to mark its passing. But for Floridians who care about the future
of their state, the loss is devastating.