News / Events

Put flexibility in state planning

February 1, 2011

The change in administrations in Tallahassee seems to have caused an attitude adjustment at the Department of Community Affairs. Under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott's appointee, Billy Buzzett, the agency is showing more willingness to work with local officials to resolve land-use disputes such as the one that has tied up the Farmton plan in Volusia and Brevard counties.

Recently, Volusia County officials met with Buzzett and his staff in Tallahassee. The DCA staff made recommendations that could lead to an agreement between the county, the state and the Miami Corp., the owners of the 59,000-acre tract. The current give-and-take contrasts with DCA's approach during the previous administration, county officials told The News-Journal. Last year, DCA rejected the county-approved plan to change the land-use designation for Farmton, setting into motion administrative hearings in which DCA witnesses contended the proposed new development would disrupt wildlife corridors and cause unacceptable urban sprawl.

A court decision is pending in the Volusia and Brevard cases, but the new DCA leaders and county officials have agreed to put the cases on hold while the parties try to work out a settlement. This could lead to a resolution that would serve the interests of Volusia County residents and the property owners.

The Miami Corp. already has gone to some lengths to deal with concerns about the environmental impact of the Farmton proposal. Under the plan representatives of the land trust worked out with local officials, more than 40,000 of the 59,000 acres would be set aside for conservation. About 6,000 acres would be used for buffers and green space, and smart-growth principles would be applied to the long-term development of 25,000 homes.

For those concerned about the future of land-conservation efforts in Volusia County, the Farmton plan provides an opportunity to protect a large area between Osteen and Edgewater from development. The trade-off could be better for the environment than the development of 15- to 20-acre ranchettes, which is allowed in parts of the tract under the current land-use regulations.

At least DCA and local officials are talking about how to revise and improve the plan. The previous standoff left the impression that the agency wouldn't accept any serious effort to develop parts of the 59,000-acre tract.

Scott has referred to DCA as a "job-killing" agency. That's a bit of an overstatement, given the agency's record of approving many growth-management changes. However, officials in Volusia and Flagler counties have noted that, in recent years, DCA officials had become more adversarial and much more likely to say "no" to land-use amendments.

Buzzett and his staff appear to be making a necessary course correction. If handled with caution and an intent to avoid unbridled growth, this change should be good for the state.