Bill eliminating state development review program goes to governor

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A bill that would eliminate a state review program for shopping malls, huge housing projects and other large developments passed the House on Friday and is on the way to the governor.

Supporters of SB 1216 said the “developments of regional impact” program was burdensome, redundant and actually discouraged the development of planned communities.

The Legislature created the DRI program in 1972 to provide for review by state and regional agencies of the effects of development on roads, schools and the environment. But the Legislature in 2010 exempted eight counties and more than 200 cities from the requirement in state law.

2011 Senate study stated that the argument can be made for getting rid of the program but it remains useful especially in rural areas where counties often don’t have the planning staff to deal with large developments.

“Removing the DRI process hinders especially smaller governments in planning economic development,” state Rep. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat from Orlando, said during debate on Friday.

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican from St. Cloud, said there still would be state review of large developments.

“Ultimately this bill removes underutilized processes,” La Rosa said.

“I believe this (bill) allows local governments to plan more, not less — which is what the argument is about,” he continued.

Existing developments of regional impact would go through the state coordinated review process, which is administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Tom Pelham, who served as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs under Gov. Bob Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist, said Friday the state-coordinated review process is insufficient.

That process was designed for development proposals that usually don’t contain details needed to identify and offset regional impacts as the DRI program was designed to do.

“As weakened as it is, if the DRI process is going to be eliminated, it should be replaced with an effective means to mitigate the regional impacts of development,” Pelham said.

Groups opposing the bill included the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities and 1000 Friends of Florida.

SB 1216 also removes a requirement for regional planning councils to issue recommendations to address the impact on the public of proposed new power plants.

The House version of the bill, HB 933, received backing from groups including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Florida Community Developers and the Florida Home Builders Association.

HB 933, which in March was combined with language from seven separate growth management bills, was amended to remove other controversial provisions, including a requirement for approval of “constrained” agricultural parcels next to development.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.