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Development bill passes first stop despite opposition from cities and counties

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A bill that would eliminate a state process for reviewing large developments cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, another bill that would eliminate Florida’s 11 regional planning councils was amended to eliminate only one of them.

Large developments such as shopping malls and housing projects with hundreds of homes now are classified by the state as “developments of regional impact” subject to review by state agencies and neighboring cities and counties.

But developers long have complained that the review process is duplicative and costly. In 2009, the Legislature exempted the state’s eight largest counties along with more than 200 cities from the review process.

Big developers say it’s time to eliminate the reviews statewide.

SB 562, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Wilton Simpson of Trilby, would place DRIs in a speedier state “coordinated review” process. Simpson is chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs.

Gary Hunter, representing the Association of Florida Community Developers, said his members go to all lengths to avoid hitting the DRI threshold and being subject to the costlier review.

“Since 2009 when the Legislature chose to exempt more than half the state from the DRI laws, the sky has not fallen,” Hunter said. “In fact no one has done a DRI.”

But Eric Poole, representing the Florida Association of Counties, said he is working with Simpson to improve the bill. Last year the association opposed a bill to expand the numbers of cities and counties with DRI exemptions.

“I promise I’m not here to say the sky is falling and the DRI process is horrible,” he said.

Representatives of 1000 Friends of Florida and the Florida League of Cities also said they opposed the bill.

The bill passed Simpson’s committee unanimously and has two more committee stops. The House version, HB 579, has not been heard in the first of its three committee stops.

Also Tuesday, the committee passed SB 484, which had proposed eliminating the state’s 11 regional planning councils. The amended bill would eliminate only the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council and shift its counties into other planning councils.

Simpson said Sumter County had requested the action. But he acknowledged to Inverness Republican state Sen. Charlie Dean that he had not asked Marion and Levy counties whether they wanted to be moved into other councils.

Ron Book, executive director of the Florida Regional Councils Association, said serious questions had been raised about whether Palm Beach County should remain in the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council after having been moved years ago from the South Florida Regional Planning Council. He said he would work with Simpson on the bill.

“Sometimes you’ve got to reset the wheel and not be afraid of change as you move forward,” Book said.

Dean said he would vote for the bill if Simpson would work with him on the issue. The bill passed unanimously and has two more committee stops. The House companion, HB 873, has not been heard in committee.

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

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