Thursday, January 24, 2008

A quick primer on the Florida Growth Management Act

The Florida Growth Management Act (163.3161, Fla. Stat.) Has provided the guiding direction of land use laws in our state for over twenty years. Originally enacted in 1985, this far-reaching legislation established a “pyramid of planning” with state oversight and basic planning standards. At the top of the pyramid is the state comprehensive plan, with broad goals and policies dealing with subjects ranging from education to the environment.

In the next tier, regional policy plans, consistent with the state plan, are developed by eleven regional planning councils. Ultimately, Florida’s 67 counties, 408 municipalities and two special districts are required to adopt local government comprehensive plans (“Comp. Plans”) for their jurisdictions. These Comp. Plans must be consistent with the regional and state plans. The Comp. plans have the force of law and govern many decisions of local government that affect the development of land.

Comp. Plans contain chapters or “elements” that address future land use, housing, transportation, infrastructure, coastal management, conservation, recreation and open space, intergovernmental coordination, and capital improvements. A key component of the Act is its concurrency provision that requires facilities and services to be available concurrent with the impacts of development.

Local governments enact Land Development Regulations (LDRs) which include local ordinances (zoning, subdivision, storm water management, signage, environmental protection, etc.) to implement the goals, objectives and policies established in the Comp. Plan. Any and all local regulations must be consistent with the plan.

The comprehensive planning process is intended to be ongoing. Through amendments, a plan can evolve to meet changing circumstances. The Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and its Division of Community Planning oversee this planning pyramid, reviewing and approving the initial adoption and subsequent amendment of local government comprehensive plans, making sure they meet established minimum criteria. There are two broad classes of amendments, each with its own procedures: Large Scale and Small Scale. Which one to pursue depends on the size and intended use of the parcel. Large Scale amendments can only be done twice a year and must be ultimately approved by the DCA. Small-Scale amendments, which typically apply to parcels under 10 acres, have ultimate approval at the local level (County Council or, for municipalities, the City Commission or Planning Board depending on local rules) and can be effected at anytime. The Growth Management Act requires minimum public notice and hearing for local governments to adopt any amendments to the Comp. Plan or LDRs. For the more notorious development projects, these hearings are often emotionally charged with public supporters and detractors.

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