By Dom Nozzi
The Florida Growth Management law, adopted in 1985, requires all cities and counties to prepare long-range plans that ensure that development does not degrade “levels of service” (such as the amount of parks or landfill capacity available per person in a community). These levels of service are intended to be proxies for quality of life.
For a new development to not violate these adopted level of service standards (and therefore be issued a permit to develop), they must show that they are “concurrent.” For a development to “be concurrent” or “meet concurrency” the local government must have enough infrastructure capacity to serve each proposed development (and that capacity is measured by using the locally adopted level of service standards). Specifically, concurrency regulations require that local government has the capacity in stormwater, parks, solid waste, water, sewer and mass transit facilities to serve each proposed development.
The Florida laws that implements these rules are found in Section “9-J5” of state law. 9-J5 goes into great detail and requires an enormous amount of study to determine, precisely, concurrency needs for facilities (primarily adequacy for roads to avoid congestion).
This concurrency seems, on the surface, to be a good proxy for our determining if local governments are “managing” growth, but, in fact, it is an especially inaccurate measure for sustainability and quality of life (and, in fact, moves Florida in the opposite direction by focusing local government attention on such bean counting).
It works okay for, say, parks, but for roads, maintaining per capita road capacity is killing Florida communities and their future. 9-J5 says nothing meaningful about needing to maintain a level-of-service for quality neighborhoods, transportation or housing choice, urban design or community vision, compact development, mixed use, or quality of life. Instead, 9-J5 forces local governments to divert an enormous amount of their time and energy into putting together a huge amount of data that is nearly meaningless for creating quality communities.
This data is not only meaningless, but is often counter-productive.
Because of 9-J5, local governments have far too little time to put together a vision for quality of life and sustainability. Local governments could have time, but it would require more money to hire more planners (and visionary planners, by the way). By requiring local governments to abide by 9-J5, then, local governments are induced to engage in lowest common denominator planning.
The small towns with no planning staff or history of planning are helped to at least start doing something to fight the Wal-Marts, but bigger, more sophisticated cities squander most all of their planning staff time on engaging in massive amounts of numerical gymnastics that don’t help the local government create a better future — and instead does many things to make their future worse.
Almost never do local governments in Florida, under the Growth Management law, ask or expect any visioning or designing for quality of life in the 9-J5 environment. Local governments are so busy that they kill themselves to meet 9-J5 requirements and then delude themselves into thinking that such a number-crunching effort will somehow create a pleasant, sustainable town.
Florida needs to start over again on its Growth Management law.
The law must start finding proxies for quality of life. The road concurrency rule (which is the only concurrency rule that matters in the implementation of this Florida law) means, instead, that mostly, the Florida growth management law cares only that we ensure a quality of life for cars, thereby making it inevitable that local governments will have accelerated sprawl and a lower quality of life more so than had there been no state growth management law.
And what a bitter irony that will be.