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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 18, 2009 11 years ago

My View

by: Rod Thomson

The hyperbole is out in force over Gov. Charlie Crist’s signing of a new law that will lessen some of the state’s most Draconian growth-management regulations.

And while the governor signed the bill the Legislature overwhelming approved this spring, he buys into too much of the anti-growth sentiment — which just gets the economy wrong and damages the quality of life for most people.

In fact, this is probably not the real Charlie Crist. This is the Crist running for the Republican nomination against an actual conservative, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. Crist cannot be his “moderate” self — which is to say, liberal in most respects — and expect to get the nomination.

I doubt he would have signed this bill if not running for the Senate, or if he already had the Republican nomination.

Evidence, in addition to his laundry list of actions as governor to spend billions to buy out a private company to restore the Everglades and general anti-growth, pro-regulation behavior, can be found in his thinking on signing the bill.

He told reporters his hope that the law would spur economic growth in Florida outweighed his concerns that it would open the door for unfettered sprawl.

But this is exactly the wrong formulation, belying a general misunderstanding of economics. It is not an either-or option between economic growth and unregulated sprawl. (That last phrase must just make developers double over laughing.) Growth is required for our economy. Sprawl in its worst sense is not. But growth does inevitably lead to more housing, which is good.

The new law eases transportation- concurrency rules in urbanized areas. Concurrency required that roads be able to handle a development’s impact before the development gets under way. That was so costly upfront it drove up prices, blocked some developments and made urban infill — a buzz phrase for smart growth — impossible in areas.

Because of this, concurrency actually encourages sprawl — it is easier to meet those requirements in rural areas than in urban areas. Thus the law, at times, worked against supporters’ expressed desires.

The new bill also allows each city and county to decide if it wants to designate a large project as a Development of Regional Impact, the dreaded DRI. This onerous rule required a region-wide study of a development’s impact and mitigation against the impact, adding immense costs — always passed on to the final consumer.

But the law does not get rid of DRIs, it leaves it up to the local municipality that is answerable to voters, rather than to Tallahassee bureaucrats who are unreachable. Really, why should a guy in an office in Tallahassee make such decisions for Sarasota, when our own officials can, and we can influence them. We can’t vote the bum out of his Tallahassee cubicle. And throttling back on concurrency will help urban infill projects. Both are good for the economy.

The news stories, however, are filled with phrases such as “worsen overburdened roadways,” “encourage reckless development,” “unregulated sprawl” and “gridlock.”

And that is just the reporters’ verbiage.

Opponents decry the potential loss of oversight by state and regional regulators. Where do we get the idea that these all-wise bureaucrats are the better choice for making decisions that affect a community than locally elected representatives who are answerable to us?

These tweaks to the growth laws were needed and will benefit most everyone.

Rod Thomson is executive editor of the Gulf Coast Business Review. He can be reached at [email protected].

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