Monday, July 18, 2011

A Professional Planner's Take on the Community Planning Act

The president of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association, Merle Bishop, FAICP, recently responded to an article by St. Pete Times reporter Craig Pittman. The article  appeared in the July 2011 issue of Planning, the American Planning Association's magazine. Pittman's article is reproduced here. That blog shows that Pittman's article has given many a mistaken impression of what has happened to land use planning and growth management in Florida. 

I haven't been able to find a copy of Mr. Bishop's letter online so it is reproduced below. It gives some perspective on how planning professionals are dealing with the Community Planning Act and HB 7207.
I was somewhat disappointed in reading your article in the July 2011 issue of Planning, titled “Florida Kills Growth Management Act.” I understand that the article appeared in the “News Briefs” section of the magazine which does not provide sufficient column space to fully explain a complex topic as House Bill (HB) 7207 and the recent changes to Florida’s Growth Management Act. Your article certainly offers a very disheartening viewpoint regarding the recent legislative changes in Florida. Especially, to any reader who has not followed the legislative process, much less read HB 7207. I say this because it is my belief, which I believe is shared by many of my planning colleagues, that Florida did not kill the Growth Management Act. I understand the argument that changes to the role of DCA as a strong, centralized state planning agency in the oversight and approval process of Comprehensive Plans weakens the overall planning effort in Florida. However, I also recognize that there is a lot of good planning that is taking place at the local level and does not need a “top down” planning structure or state oversight to be successful. In a sense, I believe it boils down to some people seeing the glass as half empty while others see it as half full.
Most of the planning requirements of the Growth Management Act remain unchanged and, while Rule 9J-5 was repelled, several of the provisions of the rule have been incorporated into the Growth Management Act (Chapter 163, F.S.) In fact, if you step back and take a look at the new law in its totality, there remains a decent planning process, that if followed, will provide local governments the necessary tools to guide their futures. Your article states that the new legislation bans cities and counties from imposing impact fees on non-residential development for two years. This is simply not the case. This provision was discussed earlier in the legislative process, but not included in the final, adopted version of the legislation.
Certainly, the statutory changes did not diminish the importance of local governments ability to make sound decisions that are based on plans developed over decades of hard work, public investment and public participation. The big question, in light of the changes, is how will local governments respond to those changes? Will they remove concurrency for transportation, schools and park facilities? Will they remove their School Facilities Element from their Comprehensive Plan? Will they make bad planning decisions that result in sprawl and adverse environmental impacts? Will citizen involvement in the planning process and public opinion have any influence or bearing on local decisions and choices? I guess these questions remain to be answered as we move into future with the changes in HB 7207. It can be argued that planning requirements contained in state law and rule are not essential to achieve good planning. In fact, changes in these requirements can present new opportunities for local governments to be proactive and creative in making planning decisions and securing a better future for existing and future populations. As a planning profession, I believe it is critical that planners in the state provide leadership in identifying those creative and innovative solutions.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the legislative debate, was that it appeared to focus heavily on comprehensive plans as a regulatory impediment to economic development. Seemingly lost in the debate is the strong linkage between good planning and economic development, including job creation. A comprehensive plan is not an end unto itself but it is a tool to guide a community towards economically vibrant, sustainable and active communities. It is my opinion that most local communities throughout Florida “get this” and will “stay the course” by maintaining concurrency, including a school facilities element, as part of their plans. Additionally, they will “step up” and make good planning decisions without having DCA as a “backstop” for bad planning decisions. Craig, I hope that you take the time and opportunity to speak with other planners in leadership roles around the state to get different perspectives from professionals who work with the growth management act and the recent changes on a daily basis. I realize that planners don’t make the decisions, elected official do and when local politics are involved, anything can happen. I acknowledge that some bad choices and decisions will occur. However, many of the elected officials that I know sincerely want to do the right thing and understand the significance of sound planning and a following a good plan for the future of their community.
In closing, I encourage you to point out that there is still a planning requirement in place in Florida and local governments are now more accountable to existing and future populations to make good decisions based on their plans developed over the years. I believe that local citizens also have a very important role in the new planning structure for Florida. They should be encouraged to become educated and more aware of their community’s planning efforts and to get involved – participate in local planning and visioning efforts to provide guidance to appointed planning and zoning boards and local elected officials. Planning is definitely alive and well in the state. Governments have taken on different roles and local governments are capable of implementing the plans and vision of their local community.
Merle H. Bishop, FAICP
APA Florida President