State planners say it would take 268 years of population growth to use up the new home lots that already are allowed in Tallahassee and Leon County.
In DeSoto and Jackson counties, it would take even longer: DeSoto would require 328 years of growth and Jackson County would require 996 years.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- what the Florida Department of Community Affairs says is an over-allocation of residential development in some counties, the department's process for reviewing projects is facing legislative scrutiny.
DCA reviews development projects proposed by cities and counties as amendments to their comprehensive plans. As part of that review, the department wants cities and counties to conduct a "needs analysis" showing that population growth supports changing the land use designation.
But some legislators and landowners say they don't like the needs analysis and its reliance on population estimates. They say it infringes on new development that would create jobs during tough economic times.
"It appears to me we should get rid of the needs analysis or make it tighter so there is more certainty for the developer going through it," Sen. Mike Bennett, chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, said during a committee hearing earlier this month.
"I don't think the needs test deters people from moving to Florida," he said. "They still want to come down here. So I'm trying to understand -- why we have a needs analysis that would take away economic development and economic incentives?"
A report published last month by the Senate Committee on Community Affairs staff says the needs assessment is a fundamental part of land use planning and a key indicator of urban sprawl. But the committee staff also said it is only one factor to consider along with economic development, urban infill and locating development where it is most efficient to receive local services.
DCA Secretary Tom Pelham suggests that the department is getting a bad rap from its critics. He says projects usually are denied for multiple reasons -- including lack of infrastructure -- which he said are caused by overallocation of development.
"I challenge anyone to find department decisions where need was the only issue raised," Pelham told the committee hearing. "It simply is not the case."
Bennett today told FloridaEnvironments.com that he's not sure whether his committee's review of the needs analysis will result in legislation. He also said that the proposed Destiny development project in Osceola County could create more than 10,000 jobs, yet it must go through the uncertainty of the needs analysis.
"You have a group of investors willing to put millions and millions and millions of their own money into the project," Bennett said, adding, "A needs analysis does not work in that situation."
In response, Pelham said today the Destiny developers still could build 8,500 homes on more than 40,000 acres -- and they haven't submitted an application to build more. So the department, he said, hasn't denied any project there.
And claims of jobs that could be created at Destiny are simply "wild rumor and speculation," Pelham said, adding, "No hard evidence of any kind has been presented to back that up."
In its report, the Senate Committee on Community Affairs suggested that DCA or the Legislature begin rulemaking to clarify the criteria used in the needs analysis. DCA earlier this month held a hearing to solicit comment on a possible rule but no timetable has been established for adopting one.
Earlier this month, Pelham told Bennett's committee that it shouldn't be hard for a developer to provide data showing that a good project is needed.
The needs analysis, Pelham said, lies at the heart of the planning process. And he noted that Florida has a history of "speculative" development projects that wind up failing -- and government then is called in to bail them out.
"I worked for the private sector for a long time and was honored to represent some of the top developers in this state," Pelham said. "But they are doing their job, which is to take care of their bottom line.
"That's their job -- I don't criticize that at all," he said. "That's why someone has to take the big picture and look out for the public interest. Because it may be the public that winds up holding the bill."
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)