Land Use Planning Takes a Step Back in Florida

Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott promised to cut government and make Florida more business-friendly when he campaigned.  In addition to overseeing a reduction in state spending, which I wrote about here, he also dialed back the state’s land use planning by cutting state oversight, and abolishing the agency that was the overseer.  The bill to do this was signed last week.

Florida was a pioneer in state-wide land use planning when the state passed its Growth Management Act in 1985.  Only Oregon had that level of state-wide land use planning before Florida’s 1985 Act.  The Act required all local governments to draw up local comprehensive plans that met specific requirements.  Florida’s strict land use laws made it difficult for businesses to site new facilities in the state, sending some businesses interested in Florida locations to other states.

One of the key provisions in Florida’s Growth Management Act was its concurrency doctrine, which required various types of infrastructure — but mostly, roads — to be available concurrent with any new development.  If roads in the vicinity of a proposed development were already congested, either additional capacity had to be added, or the development would not be approved.  The concurrency requirement was a substantial impediment to further development in urban areas.

Florida’s Department of Community Affairs was the agency that oversaw the state’s growth management efforts.  It reviewed all local comprehensive plans to determine if they were in compliance with Florida law, and it rejected a lot of them.  Eventually, local governments learned how the Department of Community Affairs interpreted and enforced the Act, so essentially, the state was dictating all land use decisions, with local governments doing the work of drawing up the details.

Legislation pushed by Governor Scott and passed this legislative session (1) made concurrency optional for local governments, and (2) abolished the Department of Community Affairs.  Essentially, land use planning will now be done by local governments, and local governments will be free to use their discretion to determine how strict they want to be on developers.

This is still a good distance away from abolishing land use planning.  It’s now up to local governments, though, and not mandated by the state.  It will make Florida more business-friendly, at least in some jurisdictions.

Housing America, a book I co-edited with Ben Powell, takes a critical look at government intervention in land use.  Land use planning has been becoming increasingly prevalent over the past two decades.  But now, Florida has taken a step back from comprehensive land use planning.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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