By Michael Peltier
The News Service of Florida
A coalition of local governments today asked the courts to throw out a new growth management law they say will leave them holding the bag.
Six weeks after Gov. Charlie Crist signed Senate Bill 360 into law, plaintiffs including Lee County and the City of Weston filed suit in the Second Circuit Court in Tallahassee asking the court to do what opponents couldn't in the 2009 legislative Session: Kill a measure that among other things loosens local control over development in the state’s most densely populated areas.
Passed during the final days of the 2009 session, the bill was amended to include a number of other provisions local governments say will cost them at a time they are already scrambling to make ends meet.
The suit attacks the new law on a couple of fronts by saying it improperly encompasses multiple issues and amounts to an unfunded mandate prohibited under the Florida Constitution.
“The significant costs of SB 360 on local governments in Florida were well-known to (but ignored by) the Legislature,” the lawsuit contends.
Other local governments are expected to sign on as the lawsuit works its way through the courts.
The challenge is the latest development since the issue emerged as one of the most controversial of the 2009 session. The law went into effect June 1.
The plan removes transportation concurrency requirements in the state's dense urban land areas -- tracts with an average of at least 1,000 people per square mile or in counties with populations of at least 1 million. The provision would directly affect eight of the state's largest counties and nearly 250 municipalities across the state.
The measure exempts from the development of regional impact process those dense urban areas or parcels classified as urban infill, community redevelopment or those that are part of an urban service area. It also creates a two-year extension of projects that are otherwise compliant with local and state permits.
The bill prompted controversy in both chambers. It passed the Senate on a 30-7 vote. The House passed it by a 78-37 tally.
Backers said the state’s 25-year-old growth management law encouraged the type of sprawl it attempted to avoid. Crist said it would encourage growth in urban areas, promote environmentally friendly practices and free up construction projects that are waiting in the wings.
But some worry about the way the bill is worded and that some of its provisions will encourage new development in some areas that aren't in the urban core. Cities and counties led a push for Crist to veto the measure, calling it ironic that the state, which forced local governments to adopt tougher growth management laws 25 years ago is now restricting their oversight.
“This re-write substantially alters the role local governments can and will play in the process,” said Lee Arnold, a lobbyist for Lee County. “In the end, it will dismantle growth management as we know it.”