If Legislature won’t act to restore planning rights, growth management… we will!

1,000 Friends of Florida, long-time advocate for smart growth and environmental protection, vows to fight for repeal of House Bill 7103 and the return of sound growth management in next year’s Legislature and beyond… to reaffirm that citizens’ rights to hold officials accountable for bad planning and development decisions is crucial to our state’s future. Lee Future supports this effort and encourages members to stay current on this issue.

Originally published in TCPalm.com on October 1, 2019

In 2007, a front-page Wall Street Journal article reported that the rapid population growth that had been a trademark of Florida for decades was slowing. The article posed a memorable question in its headline: “Is Florida Over?” 

A dozen years later, the answer is clear: Heck, no. This summer, a state panel projected that Florida would grow by at least 330,000 people a year through 2024 — more than 900 new residents a day. 

Growth at that breakneck pace, unless carefully managed, will do irreparable harm to Florida’s environment and quality of life — ironically, elements that draw new residents and visitors to the Sunshine State. Yet, earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill — signed into law by the governor — with a provision that guts growth management. 

At our nonprofit, member-supported organization, 1000 Friends of Florida, we have been champions for growth management since our founding in 1986. We could not let this new law, House Bill 7103, go unchallenged. 

Last month, we filed suit against HB 7103. Our complaint points out that the law blatantly violates the Florida Constitution’s requirement that legislation be limited to a single subject. By the time it passed on the final scheduled day of the 2019 legislative session, HB 7103 had swollen to encompass 17 different subjects. 

But that’s not the new law’s most consequential constitutional violation. In one of its 17 subject areas, HB 7103 targets Floridians who challenge development orders that are inconsistent with comprehensive plans — blueprints required under Florida law for orderly, environmentally responsible and taxpayer-friendly growth. 

A provision in the new law requires citizens who file consistency challenges, and lose, to pay the legal costs of the winning side, which may include the local government and the developer. Because those expenses can easily climb into six figures, this provision effectively rules out consistency challenges for all but the wealthiest Floridians. Anyone else risks financial ruin for exercising their right to enforce their community’s comprehensive plan.

This amounts to a violation of the due process guarantee found in our state constitution, because there are no feasible alternatives for citizens to challenge inconsistent development orders.

These consistency challenges from citizens are the cornerstone of growth management in Florida.

The passage of HB 7103 was not just an attack on citizen planning rights; it was an egregious abuse of the legislative process. The amendment that snuffed out consistency challenges was unveiled on the Senate floor on the 58th day of the 60-day session. It was never introduced in committee, where it would have received at least some scrutiny — debate among members, analysis from staff, and expert testimony.

Most legislators who voted for it probably didn’t realize its disastrous impact. 

Ahead of the 2020 legislative session, bills have been introduced that would repeal the amendment to HB 7103 and restore citizens’ rights in the planning process. This legislation deserves full-throated support from members of both parties and speedy passage when lawmakers reconvene in January.

Planning, citizens’ rights and environmental protection are bipartisan priorities in our state. We urge Floridians who care about their rights and the future of their communities to press their elected representatives for action in pre-session meetings, phone calls and emails. 

Meanwhile, however, 1000 Friends cannot count on legislators to do the right thing. We will continue to pursue our legal battle to restore citizens’ rights in the planning process. We believe the constitution is on our side.  

Is growth management over in Florida? Not if we have anything to say about it. 

Paul Owens is president of 1000 Friends of Florida, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that advocates smart growth and environmental protection. 


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