Believe it or not, Florida once had a robust growth-management program overseen by an agency called the Florida Department of Community Affairs.
Tom Pelham (1923-2023), who oversaw the agency at its peak, died this week in Tallahassee.
Under his tenure, the agency was able to challenge weak local growth regulations by enforcing the Florida Legislature’s approval in 1985—when Florida’s population was about half of what it is today– of the first-ever effective growth-management regulations. Those regulations required local governments to come up with sustainable, financially sound growth-management plans.
Up until then, many local governments—Polk County was one of the poster children for this—had permissive zoning regulations and refused to adopt impact fees that paid for growth, leaving the financial burden and the traffic congestion on the backs of taxpayers.
The 1985 law also required concurrency, which meant development that would result in road or school gridlock would have to deal with the deficiency.
That’s all a dim memory now.
State law now makes road and school concurrency voluntary and the agency that oversees growth plan amendments, now given the Orwellian Department of Economic Opportunity moniker, no longer has the authority to challenge local growth decisions, no matter how misguided they are.
On top of that, Florida legislators support bills that would make it more difficult for citizen groups to take up the challenges in the breach lest they offend legislators’ developer campaign contributors.
Things didn’t have to turn out this way.
People like Tom Pelham and the responsible legislators who supported better ways to manage growth in Florida will be missed.