Tallahassee Attacks On Growth Regs, Tree Protection Surface

The relentless attack on growth management and other important environmental protections at the local level will continue as Florida legislators prepare for the 2018 session, which begins in January.

Next year’s session of the Florida Legislature will feature more attempts to undermine local development regulations under the guise of protecting private property rights.

First, proposed legislation (HB 207 and SB 362) would force cities and counties to rewrite their growth plans to include a new element to promote private property rights and economic development.

Then the law would force local officials to rewrite their development regulations to comply with this new, made-up requirement.

The idea that private property rights are unprotected under existing law is false.

Provisions ranging from the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights to various state laws such as the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act already cover this issue.

What the bill does instead is to tilt growth-management decisions in favor of the private property rights of applicants at the expense of everyone else’s property rights.

This is a common gambit by some members of the development community to gain an upper hand in zoning hearings. The premise doesn’t recognize the realities of zoning decisons.

The fact is that growth decisions sometimes force local officials to make decisions based on competing private property rights claims.

The most recent example was last week’s public hearing on a proposal to push warehouse development further into residential areas in the Four Corners area and the potential precedent that sets.

That hearing set the claimed rights of a long-term real estate investor whose earlier plans for a shopping center development fell through with the claimed rights of long-term homeowners who felt betrayed by this switcheroo.

This proposed legislation could prevent elected officials from giving these competing interests a fair hearing.

Meanwhile, another assault on local government environmental stewardship is coming from legislation filed to eliminate city and county tree-protection ordinances.

The legislation (SB 574, HB 521) would prohibit any city or county regulations that regulate tree removal or tree trimming, that require mitigation for tree removal or that prohibit burying tree debris on lots larger than 2.5 acres.

If this legislation passes as currently written, the effect would create a step backward for efforts to preserve urban tree canopies and to improve development standards in many parts of the state.

Lakeland just passed its first tree protection ordinance a couple of years ago, capping a discussion that has been underway locally since the 1970s.

Allowing tree debris to be buried on site essentially allows mini-landfills. It also creates potential surprises for future private property owners who may unwittingly build a home over this buried debris and suffer foundation settling problems.

These bills reportedly are reactions to restrictions in some local ordinances. The place to deal with those kinds of complaints is at the local, not the state, level.

However, the debate needs to take everyone’s interests into account rather than only some interests.

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.