Panel Set to Report on State's Growth Management Bush Wants Local Governments to Have Strict Procedures

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- A year ago it looked as if the state's growth-management laws were in jeopardy.

Veteran Rep. George Albright, R-Ocala, was pushing ahead with efforts to curtail state government's ability to control growth and a former developer, Jeb Bush, was in the governor's office and talking about the need to reduce the state's role in growth management.

But the picture looks different as a commission appointed by Bush prepares to issue growth-management recommendations to the Legislature.

Albright is gone, a victim of term limits, and Bush has shown indications that he may not be the friend that the development community expected him to be.

Bush headed off legislative action by appointing a Growth Management Study Commission and said he wanted more information before making any changes in the law.

Some environmentalists feared that was just a temporary reprieve, a little window dressing to clear the way for action in the coming legislative session.

Bush's suggestion that much of the management of growth should be turned over to local government by the state was seen as a way of dismantling controls altogether.

But subsequent comments by Bush have indicated that, while he may want to see growth management decentralized, he wants local governments to step in with strict procedures of their own.

In a Cabinet meeting last fall, Bush was obviously put out by demands that the state purchase an island in Osceola County to prevent high-density development that was approved by local officials.

Not only did the development permits granted by local government make it necessary for the state to buy the land, but they also increased the amount that it had to pay.

"We're bailing out counties for not having the courage to do what's right with growth management," Bush complained before voting against the purchase, which was approved over his opposition.

Additionally, the governor appears to support a concept called "full-cost accounting" that would require local governments to determine whether new developments would generate enough in taxes to pay for the services that government provides them.

Allison DeFoor, a Tallahassee lawyer on the commission, said by linking costs directly to development decisions, local government accountability can be assured.

"We're hearing a lot that we've been selling Florida on the cheap," DeFoor said.

DeFoor said requiring local accountability is not inconsistent with the goal of decentralizing the growth-management process.

"Now you've got a high level of command and control and very little accountability at the bottom line," DeFoor said.

He said by reversing the process, there might be more accountability at the local level and less control by the state.

DeFoor said he thought some environmentalists who were initially concerned about the commission are less fearful now that they have seen its direction.

"The problem was they were fighting the last war," he said. …