Two new bills would severely rein in counties’ ability to get information about the impact of the most massive developments — and Alachua County leaders vowed Tuesday to do all in their power to defeat them.
Senate Bill 832 and its newly filed counterpart, House Bill 933, target so-called sector plans that governments use to gain information about some of the largest-scale developments before they come for approval.
County governments use them to glean information about projected impacts from developments of 15,000 acres or more, such as how a project might affect roads, water supplies and wildlife.
One such project is the proposed Plum Creek Timber Co. development, which would span some 60,000 acres in Alachua County. Some of it is targeted for development, both commercial and residential, and some is set aside for conservation.
During a Plum Creek task force meeting Tuesday night, Todd Powell, the company’s general manager for real estate, bristled at what he called “the conspiracy theory that’s sort of permeated this process,” and said that he, too, opposes the bills.
The notion that Plum Creek would invest its time and resources in a years-long community planning process only to turn around and try to sneak favorable legislation through a back channel makes no sense, he said.
At the end of the meeting, task force members took turns with a portable microphone, many of them like Gladys Wright, who encouraged company officials and fellow task force members to “hold our heads high” in the face of “misinformation.”
Earlier in the day, in the county commission meeting chambers, the county’s planning staff presented their analysis of the two bills.
In short, the planners said the bills would force them to ask for all of the information they might want to know at the start of the planning process — before an actual plan has been submitted — and then require them to respond to that information within a two-week window.
The bills are so restrictive as to send a signal to local planners that they should just give developers the rights they want “and move on,” said Missy Daniels, a county government senior planner.
Besides Plum Creek, there are sector plan applications in the works in Osceola County — a super-sized 133,000-acre plan, and another in Bay County.
During the evening task force meeting, Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida’s director of advocacy, said there are couple others in the works, as well.
County commissioners voted unanimously to argue loudly and strongly against the legislation. Commissioner Ken Cornell was asked to attend the Tuesday evening Plum Creek task force meeting to outline the county’s opposition in person.
There was no public comment period during the meeting, but Cornell said afterward that he’d spoken with Powell, and if Plum Creek will join the effort to defeat the two bills, “then we’re in a much stronger position than we started.”
Commissioners voted to work with the Florida Association of Counties in hopes that other counties will join the lobbying effort against the bills, which are seen as a threat to home rule.
Residents at the meeting who sat through a detailed report on how the bills would weaken the county’s current planning authority also spoke against the proposed bills and volunteered to go in person to the state’s capital to do battle.
James Dick, a retiree and self-described conservative, said the bills struck him as the worst aspect of democracy in action.
“It’s a disgrace,” he said. “But we’ve got a carload that’ll go to Tallahassee. And if we have to get a bus, we’ll go in a bus.”
Plum Creek’s most recent application is being revised and will likely be resubmitted in April or May, company officials have said. That version calls for up to 10,500 homes and 15.5 million square feet of non-residential development.
The company has a community workshop scheduled today from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church, 120 SE Williston Road.
Original article here.