|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
Stimulating speakers at the February 5th Public Workshops organized by Commissioners Peter O’Bryan and Bob Solari. entitled, “the Economic Development Summit and Five Year Strategic Vision,” described innovative projects like turning our landfills into energy and improving our economy, bringing quality jobs through tourism, manufacturing businesses, and a “Tax Abatement Program”.
Unfortunately, some old disturbing suggestions also surfaced on how to get the economy moving again by reducing recent environmental progress. An example given by Commissioner Wesley Davis concerned the plight of a contractor installing a 5.5 foot tree instead of the required 6 foot tree. The contractor either did not specify the size nor measured the tree and was therefore denied a county certificate of occupancy. Commissioner Davis suggested a “variance committee” to “over look” some of our regulations that he claims are inhibiting our economy. Other speakers suggested the fastest way to get our economy going is to approve the proposed concrete plant in a residential area, remove new tree, landscaping, and mining requirements, and impact fees that our commissioners are continuing to debate now.
At the state level, Senator Mike Bennett (Bradenton) is also sponsoring Senate Bill 630, a 3-year moratorium on impact fees by cities and counties. Unfortunately, the current economic crisis is being used as a smokescreen for removing impact fees, and providing other incentives or rollbacks to home builders under the guise of stimulating the economy. Even without residential impact fees and with incentives and rollbacks to our environmental ordinances, there is still no market for new houses for some time to come. This archaic thinking is part of what got us into our current mess and is not going to help us get out of it.
A must read is Carl Hiaasen’s February 15th Miami Herald column entitled “Reaping the fruit planted by greed” http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/other-views/v-print/story/903185.html, in which he points out that “our employment base depends fatally on double-digit population growth and to a lesser extent, tourism.” He further says: “There is no Plan B…The history of Florida is that of greed run amok, and old habits die hard…the mechanism of your (Florida) economy is modeled on that of a cancer cell.”
Many thanks to Gov. Crist ( 850-488-4481, Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com ) for vetoing the elimination of the Florida Forever Program. This program has been very helpful to obtaining conservation land in our county. But rollbacks get even worse at the state level. Senators in our Florida Senate Community Affairs Committee, including Indian River’s own Senators Haridopolos and Pruitt, are busy drafting sweeping legislation to make major changes to Florida’s growth management process. For example, Senate Bill 360 would stimulate sprawl in suburban and rural areas as well. In 270 municipalities with more than 1,000 people per square mile, including Sebastian (1,816.5/square mile) and Vero Beach (1,616/square mile) with Fellsmere (963/square mile) and Indian River Shores (740.6/square mile) not far behind, SB360 would:
- Eliminate Development of Regional Impact (DRI) review.
- Eliminate Transportation Concurrency requirements.
- Eliminate Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Plan Amendment review.
- Provide for only one local public hearing for new development projects.
Some aspects of SB360 do provide for incentivizing and stimulating growth by promoting infill development within the urban service area, which is desperately needed in Vero Beach and unincorporated IRC. Much better ways to really stimulate the economy are to promote sustainable businesses that do not use county nonrenewable resources (land, sand, energy) but instead use restorable wealth (sun, surf, brains, and culture). We must support efforts to maintain and tighten (not reverse) regulations protecting wetlands and other natural resources. We must push hard now to make in-fill development rather than sprawl a more attractive option.
Unfortunately, some of our “leaders” are taking us 180 degrees in the wrong direction for short term profit for a few with the true costs of development put on the backs of the taxpayer. Call to express your concern 567-8000 ext 1490 to our County Commissioners or email them: Peter O’Bryan firstname.lastname@example.org,Wesley Davis email@example.com, Joe Flescher firstname.lastname@example.org, Bob Solari email@example.com, Gary Wheeler firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them you like the Tax Abatement Program, but loud and clear not to weaken environmental protections, reduce better planning, or remove impact fees on residential development. Urge Senators Haridopolos (850-487-5056; email@example.com) and Pruitt (850-487-5088; firstname.lastname@example.org) not to support SB 360 on Growth Management until the above important issues are addressed! For more information please see http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20090220/OPINION/90219021/ and http://www.1000friendsofflorida.org/reform/09session.asp