TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Legislature is poised to press ahead with its four-year push to dismantle state growth-management rules.
The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a bill Thursday which exempts seven new counties and 20 cities from a regional review for major development projects called the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) process administered by the state's Regional Planning Councils.
Many of the state's largest counties -- including South Florida and Orange and Seminole counties -- are already exempted from the DRI process, created in 1972 to help local governments resolve regional growth fights over major development projects.
Republican lawmakers on the panel said repeatedly that such regional coordination was no longer needed.
"It isn't the 1970s any more," said Senate sponsor Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican whose home county is one that would gain the exemption. "What we are doing is removing an unnecessary layer of state government so that we can have more economic opportunity."
Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Seminole counties are already considered urban enough to be exempt from DRI review.
The bill, SB 372, would add Brevard, Escambia, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Sarasota, and Volusia counties to that list.
Democrats and two Republicans on the Senate panel -- Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and budget chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart -- expressed concerns with the rush to repeal much of Florida's once-heralded growth-controls and voted against the bill.
"My main concern was its a diminution of growth management policies," Negron told reporters afterward. "In my view, based on the citizens I represent, I wasn't persuaded."
In 2011, at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott, the Legislature blew up its growth-cop, the Department of Community Affairs, and eliminated state review of most local government comprehensive plan changes.
DRIs are intended to apply to developments like planned communities, regional malls, or other "larger than local" developments which can cause traffic or environmental impacts on their neighboring local governments.
Business groups such as the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida are pushing the bill.
Environmental groups have called it an over-reach. For example, they objected Thursday to one provision of the bill which removes urban service boundaries as one method for gaining an exemption to the DRI process, meaning development outside such boundaries could get around the regional review.
"We thought that was something of real concern," said Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends of Florida.
Eric Poole, with the Florida Association of Counties, also said the measure would have a negative spillover impact on neighboring counties. "The DRI process is the one process that in advance allows all the parties to come together to see how the project impacts all parties," Poole said.
But defenders said Florida's growth was still regulated enough under state and local regulations.
"This bill removes a layer or review; it doesn't remove permitting," Galvano said.