Sunday, June 5, 2011

See How Florida's New Comprehensive Plan Amendment Process Works: HB 7207 is Now Law

Governor Scott recently signed House Bill 7207 into law. The new law, the Community Planning Act, makes significant changes to Florida growth management system.  Even so, the changes are more course correction than rewrite. These changes went into effect immediately: they are now the law of the land.

There are certainly some big changes in store for Florida, as I've blogged about before. One big change is that all comprehensive plan amendments will now fall into one of three tracks. Because HB 7207 went into effect immediately, even current plan amendments and corresponding challenges must be processed along this new scheme.

See How the New Process Works

Hopping Green & Sams has developed a flow chart that diagrams these three tracks. It is clear from this flow chart that the state retains important oversight of comprehensive plan amendments. Generally, there is the state coordinated review track, the expedited review track, and a small scale review track. Third parties may mount a challenge against an amendment proceeding under any of these three tracks.

  • The state coordinated review track is very similar to the previous amendment review process. It will be used for the most comprehensive or regional amendments. The state coordinates a review and issues an objections, recommendations, and comments (ORC) report. The local government then addresses issues raised in the ORC report. 
  • The expedited review track will be used for the majority of comprehensive plan amendments. The local government is in charge of compiling comments from state agencies, which may comment on the amendments and challenge those that, in the agency's expertise, are found lacking.
  •  The small scale amendment track is also similar to today's process for small comprehensive plan amendments. There is no state oversight for these small amendments, which must be limited to a map amendment and text directly implementing it. Depending on location, these are limited to 10 or 20 acres, and a local government may only use this process for 120 acres per year.

Consequently, many accounts of the law are just plain wrong. Perhaps the worst description quotes David Guest of Earthjustice, who said, "essentially, all of the growth management laws in Florida were repealed." Several blogs and environmental groups also call the law a "repeal." The New York Times was less bold, but it still called HB 7207 a "parting gift" to developers and implied that state oversight has disappeared and a culture of corruption will follow. Misunderstandings about Florida growth management system were legion, even before HB 7207, but these reports show incredible ignorance about the new law. The authors could have read one of the many summaries available prepared by practitioners who know the law. Some were probably upset that the law was pushed through without much debate, but that's no excuse for shoddy, opinionated reporting.

More Changes to Come

More changes are probably to come. For example, Senate Bill 2156 abolishes The Department of Community Affairs (DCA). DCA's Division of Community Planning, which administers Florida growth management laws, will be moved into the new Department of Economic Opportunity. This bill may be the source of some of the more absurd statements that Florida's growth management system is being abolished SB 2156 has not been sent to the governor's office yet, but it is widely expected to pass when it does.