Smart Growth is Possible With Smart Policy

By SEAN PARKS
Small Business Owner and Commissioner,
Lake County

As an Eagle Scout, I learned leadership means often making hard decisions, including placing others above self. Leadership within the political arena and within agencies should further encompass this principle with actions that honor the next generation, including a long-range thinking for the generations not yet born.  

When I ponder the subject of Growth Management, President Theodore Roosevelt’s words come to mind saying in 1910, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”  Florida’s economy is the envy of much of the nation. Policies and laws don’t create jobs and wealth, but they can have a profound effect on the future of our economy.   

Florida’s economy is resource based. Everyone’s health and wealth are derived from our natural resources, be it mineral, water, timber, wildlife, plants, soil, and air to name a few. I believe there are growth management policies that will make our economy even stronger.  

For example, I suggest Green Infrastructure policy and funding be placed on more equal footing as Road and Utility infrastructure.  In recent years, the Governor and Legislature have done a wonderful job of dedicating funds to acquire lands that protect water resources, wildlife corridors and unique outdoor recreational lands. Let us take full advantage of these funds and encourage them to do more.  

There are ways to protect Florida’s unique lands in a manner that also honors property rights, such as Fee simple and Less-than-fee land acquisition instruments, Land Trusts, and Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs). Agriculture is a core value of Florida. A voluntary TDR program implemented properly can assist in keeping our working lands in agricultural uses. 

Public lands and trails are good for the economy as they increase property values through the proximity effect. Finding workers is hard right? Gen Z and Millennials especially want to live and work where natural lands, parks, and trails abound. 

A practical conservation goal for Florida should be approximately 50 percent of lands protected from development through methods such as designated viable open space, fee simple acquisition, easements, and TDRs.  These efforts will fuel a redevelopment and in-fill renaissance in Florida. 

This leads me to the next suggestion. Some development patterns produce more in economic prosperity than others do. Hate tax increases? Many projects end up resulting in a net fiscal drain on a city or county to provide services. Qualified, unbiased planners and economists can evaluate the long-term cost to provide services and provide this information to City council members and county commissioners prior to making land use decisions. 

Let’s take a serious look at our current practice of Euclidian Zoning (or single-use zoning). It’s 2023, not 1926. There are newer models that encourage and incentivize more innovative development such as Performance and Form based zoning codes. Euclidian Zoning has resulted in much of the same old development patterns of suburban sprawl. We should also look at making Wildlife Corridor Compatible Communities an emphasis in zoning.  

Changing zoning can also help alleviate affordable housing issues. Accessory Dwelling Units and higher densities when appropriately utilized can result in more inventory.    

Joint Planning Agreements (JPAs) between cities and counties should be ubiquitous. JPAs promote communication between cities and counties to better coordinate growth and ensure infrastructure is in place to serve the people.  Many Florida residents are amazed this simple tool is not being properly utilized throughout much of the State. In some places, egos of elected officials and managers stand in the way of JPAs.  

Currently, many cities and counties provide planning, zoning and permitting services that hinder economic growth and stymie innovation due to excessive permitting time frames and unpredictability. This is a real problem but understandable based on the limited supply of qualified employees and high turnover. I am not advocating for expansive government, but it’s time to consider pay, incentives, and ways to empower workers to passionately serve the cause of good governance in their community. 

Finally, let’s throw-out the term “Growth Management.” I’m in the business and to me, the term harkens a picture of bureaucracy and people simply pushing papers. It doesn’t depict the honorable art and science of ensuring one of Florida’s most important tasks… working together to leave the land even better for Florida’s next generation. ● 

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