News / Events

Volusia development decision exposes growth law changes, opponents say

Bruce Ritchie, reporter, The Current

January 26, 2012

An administrative law judge's decision this week backing a proposed Volusia County development shows the reach of growth management law changes approved by the Legislature in 2011, those involved on both sides of the case said.

The Legislature in 2011 passed bills that eliminated the Florida Department of Community Affairs and sharply reduced state oversight of growth management law. Gov. Rick Scott labeled DCA a "job-killer" as Republican legislators said law changes were needed to return local control over growth management.

The Miami Corp. is proposing Farmton, with 23,100 homes and 4.7 million square feet of commercial space on 59,000 acres in southern Volusia County and northern Brevard counties.

On Tuesday, Administrative Law Judge David Maloney said in a 113-page recommended order that petitioners Barbara Herrin and the Sierra Club failed to prove the development represents urban sprawl.

"If this project, the Farmton project, complies with our state growth management law we no longer have any growth management law in the state of Florida," Marcy LaHart, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the case, said in response to the recommended order.

Former DCA Secretary Tom Pelham testified in September that development approval represents "a planning travesty," according to the Orlando Sentinel. The DCA under Pelham rejected the development but then reversed itself when Scott took office and Pelham left.

Attorneys for Volusia County and the Miami Corp. said they disagree the case shows growth law changes will result in urban sprawl.

"I would say this was 49,000 acres [in Volusia County] of which over 30,000 will be put into permanent preservation," said Jamie Seaman, deputy Volusia County attorney. "Development will occur on a small percentage" of the land.

Farmton represents sustainable development and a new approach for Florida on growth management, said Clay Henderson, an attorney for Miami Corp.

"What we no longer have is a process-oriented, check-the-box system that approves sprawl and punishes innovative design," he said.

"The new law promotes innovative planning techniques, large scale planning and protection of natural resources."

DCA's planners were moved into the new Department of Economic Opportunity. Department spokesman James Miller said the Legislature last year moved provisions of the 9J-5 urban sprawl rule into law.

"In some ways, the move makes them more important," Miller said. "And they were strengthened as a result."

House and Senate leaders this year say they intend only to make minor changes in growth management as part of a "glitch bill." The House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee on Wednesday voted to submit CMAS2 as a committee bill dealing with growth management.