Florida's Downtowns: The Key to Smart Growth, Urban Revitalization, and Green Space Preservation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

"You have got to build what people want to buy," explains Ted Krusen, whose family owns hundreds of acres of open pastureland in Zephyrhills, Florida, a small community north of Tampa. (1) Using 200 acres of agricultural land, the Krusen family will build 800 homes and add nine holes to a golf course. Their decision reflects a pattern of suburban fringe growth that has pushed progressively outward from Florida's center cities over the past thirty years. (2) The State's growth management laws have encouraged development at the outskirts of metropolitan areas by requiring that new development occur only where the infrastructure exists, or where infrastructure adequate to support the proposed development is planned. (3)

This requirement, intended to control growth, actually promotes development on the suburban fringe where infrastructure is generally under-utilized (4) and discourages urban revitalization. (5) The economic justification for suburban fringe development is simple: it is less expensive to build a golf community on rolling cow pasture than to redevelop a city block and upgrade a city's already overused roads, sewers, and water lines. (6)

The suburban development that has accommodated Florida's tremendous demand for new homes and commercial buildings in the past thirty years has come with costs. (7) Florida's cities have paid for a disproportionate share of new roads and sewer systems to connect new communities to surrounding metropolitan areas. (8) Stagnant population growth in city centers has undercut the cultural vitality of cities, imposing a cost not easy to quantify, but still precious to the city's bottom line. (9) "Workaday" cities that are empty at night are perceived as dangerous and fail to attract the residents, shops, and restaurants that could bolster their tax bases. (10)

With most data forecasting Florida's rapid growth to continue for the next twenty-five years, (11) Florida's Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature have paused to evaluate how the state is managing its growth. (12) This article examines Florida's growth management system and its impact on Florida's urban centers. Since Florida's plan for limiting sprawl and promoting urban development will inform other states, the article also evaluates policy recommendations that may be incorporated in Florida's 2002 growth management legislation.

I. THE EXISTING LANDSCAPE-AN OVERVIEW OF FLORIDA'S KEY GROWTH MANAGEMENT LAWS

Over the past thirty years, Florida's growth management laws have pursued two objectives: preservation of the state's natural resources and implementation of top-down comprehensive planning--with state-mandated planning goals passed down from state to region to county to city. Laws aimed at protecting natural resources were a response to decades of unrestricted development in and around the State's most sensitive natural resources, including the Everglades, the Florida Keys, and Miami's Biscayne Bay. (13) To protect these and other resources, the Florida legislature enacted legislation in the late 1960s and early 1970s that controlled development in environmentally sensitive areas. (14)

Florida's Environmental Land and Water Management Act of 1972 is a leading example of these efforts. Twenty-nine years after its enactment, it still informs the large-scale developments impacting environmentally sensitive lands. (15) The 1972 Act called for designation of "areas of critical state concern." (16) By 1979, five major areas of the state had been designated as areas of critical concern, including the Florida Keys, the City of Key West, and Apalachicola Bay in the state's panhandle. (17) The 1972 Act also mandated state review of Developments of Regional Impact ("DRI"), which are developments that affect more than one county. (18)

The second objective of Florida's growth management laws has been comprehensive planning. …