Objections raised by the Ancient Islands Group of Florida Sierra led to changes and the eventual defeat of a proposal to turn some local land-use and zoning cases over to a hearing officer instead of the Polk County Planning Commission.
Sierra’s objections, presented by Chair Tom Palmer, involved turning a legislative function into an administrative one, erecting unnecessary barriers to appeals and removing discretion on how any denials of the hearing officer’s recommendation would be handled by the County Commission.
County Commissioner George Lindsey, who was on the losing side of the 3-2 vote, argued this was something that would make the hearing decisions more predictable and consistent for he and his colleagues in the development community. He argued that this is simply a maturation of the growth management process that dates from the 1985 growth management law.
Sierra argued that heading in this direction may create a system in which public hearings may simply be a formality.
In response to Sierra’s comments at the first public hearing, county staff revised the section on appeals to make it more appellant-friendly.
Nevertheless, the commission’s majority remained uncomfortable with the overall concept.
Additionally, since there is no longer any strong state oversight over local land-use decisions—state officials can raise objection, but no longer have any enforcement power—further erosion of local planning oversight reduces public confidence in the system.
That’s because there is already a public perception that the way the regulations are written, applied and interpreted already gives an unfair advantage to the development community. Stripping some decision-making from the Planning Commission would reinforce that perception.
Voting to reject the proposal were Commissioners Bill Braswell, Martha Santiago and Rick Wislon. Voting to approve the change were Lindsey and Commissioner Neil Combee.